I recently had a conversation with a fellow photographer about whether or not photography detracts from living and experiencing an event. Many of us will be familiar with the phrase “just enjoy the moment”. This is the result of the thought that photographing something in some way reduces our enjoyment of what we are looking at. Robert Chen shares his experiences, considering moments that he has not fully enjoyed or things he missed out on when he was so busy trying to capture something with his camera.
There have been a few instances where I can say I have not fully appreciated what was in front of me for the want to photograph it. I photographed a friend’s wedding last summer and I remember photographing the best man and groom doing their speeches. Afterwards someone commented on how good the speeches were and I realised I hadn’t really listened to any of them because I was so busy photographing the moment. Similarly, my memory of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is hazy because they appeared out of no where and we had a short space of time in which to try and photograph them.
Corinne Purtill reported a recent research publication that found that photography actually heightens engagement with what is being photographed and increases enjoyment, which conflicts with the view that you have to put the camera down to enjoy the moment. Kerstin Hecker also views the camera as “a powerful tool to become more present with yourself and your surroundings”.
When photographing the landscape I feel much more connected and aware of what’s around me. I am looking for compositions and exploring locations more than I otherwise would. When I photograph sunrises in particular I enjoy the period of time when you’re set up and waiting for the sun to rise, watching the sky get gradually brighter. While on Anglesey last weekend I spend almost 2 hours capturing long exposures of the lighthouse called Twr Mawr on Llanddywn Island, enjoying lunch and cups of tea while the shots were exposing.
I can therefore relate to both points of view and for me personally I find the times when I miss out on experiencing the moment are the times when I am rushing / under pressure to capture the image. There are also occasions when photography has enabled me to enjoy moments that many people without cameras miss out on. If it wasn’t for my interest in photographing the Milky Way, I would have missed out on walking by the sea under the stars and seeing shooting stars. I would also have missed seeing the Northern Lights in the Lake District.
In the majority of cases I would argue that my enjoyment of the moment is enhanced by photography and I don’t feel like I miss out on experiencing the moment. In fact I find that photography motivates me to explore my surroundings and leads to a variety of new experiences.