Thinking Twice About Cameras and Photographs

Leaving the camera behind at Happy Simple Living

I love taking photos, I really do. I love how the camera’s viewfinder helps me find the beauty around me when I’m taking a walk. I love looking at photos of the kids when they were little, remembering vacations we took, the at-home birthday parties and picnics at the park, our family reunions and school plays and countless other happy family memories.

Between the computer hard drive and two bins in the garage, we have literally thousands of photos capturing decades of events. So you might find it strange that I’m reevaluating my tendency to bring the camera and take photos at every opportunity.

Recently I went away for a weekend with friends, and we spent a day and night camping near a beautiful Colorado lake. I brought my camera along in a beach bag that I kept track of all day, taking care to insure that the camera didn’t get wet or lost. As the day progressed, I snapped photos of everyone swimming, eating, and playing. I made sure to get photos of each person in the group, and also documented the scenery at the lake, dinner that evening and breakfast the next day.

A few days later people started asking about the photos, so I downloaded them all to my laptop and edited them in PhotoShop. Then I created a Flickr album. It took me a while to figure out how to download and configure everything in Flickr, which I didn’t find as intuitive as some photo sharing sites, but I persevered.

Once I had gotten the album created and the photos all uploaded and arranged in the right order, I e-mailed everyone in the group to let them know the photos were posted and included a link to the album. Over the coming days one person asked me to e-mail high resolution copies of some of the images, and I obliged. Another person asked me to post some of the photos on Facebook, and I complied.  Then someone noticed that I’d neglected to include some of the after-dinner pictures on the Flickr album, so I went back in and added them. It took me far too long to figure out how to add photos to the set I’d already created in Flickr, but I eventually got the missing images added. Then someone wanted another high resolution copy of one of the new photos I’d added.

In total, I figure that in addition to the time I spent shooting all the photos I probably spent about five hours managing all of the image files, posting them online and getting them into the hands of everyone in the group. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not at all. This is what I do.

Two weeks later we were heading out to a family birthday party and I started to grab the camera. Then I impulsively changed my mind and left it hanging on the hook. During the party, I relaxed on my parents’ shady patio and drank a glass of homemade sangria. I talked with my niece, happy to spend some time with her before she left for college a few days later. I helped Mom with dinner in the kitchen, and we got to chat and catch up a little. When it was time for the birthday cake to be served, I sat and sang “Happy Birthday” and watched the candles being blown out. After dinner we lingered at the table with coffee.

So. Not a single photo exists to document this happy event in the years to come. At the same time, I was able to relax and appreciate my family that evening, and be truly present with the people I care about most.  In the days following the party there were no files to download, no albums to make and no e-mails to send. Just those nice memories to think on and smile.

How about you? Are you the designated photographer in the group? What would happen if you “forgot” your camera for the next outing and just enjoyed yourself? If picture-taking has become a habit for you like it was for me, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Maybe we don’t have to document every single event of our lives, every time, with a printed record. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

16 thoughts on “Thinking Twice About Cameras and Photographs”

  1. I know exactly how you feel. I somehow fell into the roll of designated photographer with my family and more often than not…I rarely feel as if I am participating in the events or even fully enjoying them…because I am too worried about capturing them. I know that if I do not…no one will. Good for you for leaving the camera at home end choosing to enjoy the day!

    • Having those photos is wonderful, but it also takes a lot of time and effort, doesn’t it? Maybe we need to teach our kids to be photographers–ha!

  2. I am one of a few designated photographers in my group of friends. When we travel together, each of us take different photos and share on a site like Snapfish. It is more fun that way and you get additional pictures to share. Later, my wife and I will add cations to our pictures and so will our friends. It adds to the experience.

    • I like the idea of sharing photographs and getting everyone in the group to take turns. I’m also going to check out Snapfish! Great ideas — thanks. 🙂

  3. I’m not the designated photographer, but I’m one of the people who is happiest when the designated person “forgets” the camera! We don’t all enjoy having our pictures taken.

    • Thanks for sharing such a good point, Kim. Having one’s photo taken can be distracting at best and uncomfortable at worst. Hopefully, along with forgetting the camera more, we designated photographers can be sensitive to those feelings.

  4. I’m glad to see a new post, as I just subscribed. 🙂

    Coming from someone who hasn’t been an avid photographer of life in general, I must say I think it should be a balance between not taking any, and taking so many photos that the only memory you have of anything comes from them. I sort of regret not taking random photos of life as I go through it, but I do have photos of my first apartment, when we first moved into our house, and now as we remodel our kitchen.

    • Jonathan, I love Before and After photos and hope you’re planning to share the kitchen shots on your blog! Moderation in all things, as a friend of mine says, and this definitely applies to photography. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Eliza you have captured exactly the way I feel about my camera. This morning I grabbed my camera to document the last “first day of school” that I will share with Anna before she goes to college next year. She looks so happy and I wanted to remember this day. It’s wonderful to have photos of some of life’s moments. But mostly I leave my camera in a drawer so I can actually experience an event instead of hide behind a camera.

  6. I am very selective about what photos I take because, like you, I realized I didn’t need to document every living moment of everyone’s life, and yeah, it takes up a lot of life energy and space to do this.

    I am not the family record keeper so I am free to leave the camera behind if I choose. I don’t photograph formal events like graduations and weddings and b-day parties.

    The trouble is, when I do leave it behind I almost always see an awesome photographic moment that will be missed–a pretty arrangement, a terrific sunset, or any other decisive moment.

    Great post.


  7. I don’t take as many pictures for exactly this reason. Four years ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding and video-taped almost the entire time. I realized after that event, that I really didn’t enjoy the moment; I was too busy video taping it!

  8. Eliza,
    I think you’re smart to take a break! The other thing about the person taking the pictures is that they’re never in them. My Dad died suddenly nearly 20 years ago and he was “the picture taker” in our family. Pulling pictures together for his memorial service made us realize that he was in very few. The lesson I learned? Let other people take the pictures sometimes. Life is short. Great post.

  9. I totally get it!! I really like snapfish and making beautiful photo albums. In fact, I have about 9 months of photos ready to be organized into album(s). It’s a big task!

  10. I take just 1 photo per event now for the same reasons you mentioned. Just one to document it, like the birthday child blowing out candles. Too many photos can be overwhelming, but one is nice for the scrap books or to put in a frame.

  11. Reading your post brought to mind a short essay I read in a college writing class. The point of the essay was that if you experience life from behind the camera then you are not able to truly appreciate the moment and create the mental pictures that could stay with you forever. I, too, enjoy having the photos online and creating photo books of my children growing up, but since reading that short essay, I’ve learned to either take just a few key photos of an event myself or get pictures from someone else who was there.

  12. Pingback: To Click or Not to Click: The Role of Photos in my Life « My (Crazy) Organized Life

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