In Trying To Capture The Moment, Do We Risk Missing It Altogether?

from the watch-the-moment,-not-the-screen-of-your-camera dept

Earlier this year, in writing about a musician complaining about fans with mobile phones in the audience, we noted that he seemed to be overreacting, but did raise some interesting points about whether people get so focused on documenting an event that they miss experiencing it. Now a columnist at the Toronto Globe & Mail, Ivor Tossell, makes a similar point in worrying about the effort he goes through to capture “events” like beautiful sunsets, when he’s not even sure what to do with the photos afterwards. While much of the column focuses on the question of whether or not these digital momentos will last at all, an equally reasonable question is how many special moments are “lost” in the effort of trying to capture them with recording equipment.

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Comments on “In Trying To Capture The Moment, Do We Risk Missing It Altogether?”

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Anonymous of Course says:


I wish my eye were a camera. I’ve seen deer in
silhouette with the setting sun behind them, or
crossing a shallow creek in shades of indigo just
before darkness falls. Fields of grain, the stalks
nodding their heavy golden heads to a gentle autumn
breeze. A nest of cardinals in the shrubbery just
beyond my kitchen window. So many beautiful sights
but no camera of if there is a camera it’s as Ima
Fish says… often the results just do not look as cool.

I don’t know what parts of this are perception and
reality. To me the real art of photography isn’t
taking a photo of what the subject actually is but
how it is perceived. This may sound esoteric but
it’s not.

That said, I take my best photos with the crown graphic
4×5 camera, because it’s a slow process. With a digital
camera (or 35mm) I tend to spray and pray hoping for a
good photo to pop up. Slowing down also allows more time
to enjoy the experience. Funny, I can’t explain it but I
spend more time composing and less time fiddling with
equipment with the more cumbersome camera. I need to
exercise more discipline with the digital camera.

Leonard (profile) says:

Magic gets lost

I’ve done some freelance photography, including my sisters wedding. In trying to get the shot I always distance myself from an event. My photos may let other people relive the experience but I missed it altogether. More recently at my son’s first birthday I decided to never pick up the camera. I enjoyed myself tremendously and was part of the whole event. In trying to document an event I take on far too technical a mindset to enjoy the moment. My wife and I have agreed that instead of documenting a few “special moments” we will work constantly to stay engaged in the present and make every moment special.

Jezsik says:

Photos are memory triggers!

I’ve “missed” a lot of moments by capturing the event, but what was lost was regained ten-fold. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the moment slightly more had I not been busy composing, but years later the moment is relived when I see the image I captured. The memories of the emotions return quickly and easily. Long forgotten events are quickly recalled when triggered by a picture.

Haywood says:


I noticed that when I got my camcorder. I’d go to my sons events, & be expected to capture them. Half way through the first one, I realized that; life seen through a viewfinder isn’t life at all. I was just as glad when it broke, & haven’t replaced it. I do have a Nikon pro SLR, but usually hand it off at family gatherings, the receiver seems to enjoy playing with it, I’m free to enjoy.

Mike (user link) says:

Not for me...

I’ve been going to tons of concerts all my life and recently got a good enough DSLR to take along with me. I haven’t noticed any drop off in enjoyment or lack of connection with the music/performance. In fact the photos key me in to specific moments I enjoyed in the show or visual aspects I would’ve never noticed.

Same goes for my travel photos. Thanks to some my photos I can still smell the air, hear the wind, remember conversations that were going on while I took the shot or, better yet, remember things I didn’t take a picture of. I don’t think I would have that if I hadn’t taken the time to get a few shots.

Michael Long (user link) says:


No where is this more the case than at a wedding, especially when a favorite uncle or best friend decides that “taking pictures” would also be a wonderful present.

Even if they’re skilled enough to pull it off, preparing for shots, running around, taking shots, constantly looking for better angles, setting up equipment, taking down equipment, and so on pretty much means that the best friend or favorite uncle has missed the entire occasion. Worse, everyone else, including the bride and groom, have missed having you there as well.

Look folks, at such an event the pro has his job and you have yours. His is to document the event, yours is participate in the celebration.

Hulser says:

Less? More!

In my experience, I’ve actually enjoyed events and great scenery more by recording it, rather than less. Having a camera at a party or a social event gives you — before cell phone cameras, anyway — an automatic excuse to walk up to people you don’t know well and introduce yourself. You’re not just a guest; you’re the photographer. See a pretty girl at a party? You could walk up to her and ask her to pose with her friends and then chat her up. Again, this may have changed now with all of the cell phone cameras around, but I used to have a blast taking pictures like this.

And as for scenery, I find the enjoyment that I get out of reliving the memories of traveling far outweighs the effort involved in taking the picture.

But, as with everything else, you have to take pictures or “capture them with recording equipment” in moderation. Watching the entirety of your child’s play or sporting event through an LCD? Not so good. But some snapshots here and there or some short video clips? That’s the balance that I find works for me. (BTW, rather than being a flaw in the design, I find that the short length of the videos that are available on nice digital cameras is a boon. No one wants to watch hours of your little Timmy, most likely not even you.)

Botch the Crab (user link) says:

Totally Agree

I make a point to avoid cameras and picture-taking. I agree that too many people miss out on experiences because they are too busy trying to capture them. Idiots! (in my opinion)

If the moment is special enough, I will remember it. Even still, it’s much more important to live the special moments than to try to memorialize it.

Hulser says:

Re: Totally Agree

I make a point to avoid cameras and picture-taking. I agree that too many people miss out on experiences because they are too busy trying to capture them. Idiots! (in my opinion)

So, you assume that because you feel like you’re missing out on experiences if you try to capture them, then everyone else on the planet must feel the same way or experience the world like you do? Have you stopped to consider there might be people out there who enjoy taking pictures? People who feel that part of experiencing something is recording it so that they can bring up the memory later? Or people that enjoy the art/science of photography? Just because someone is different from you, it doesn’t make them an idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Totally Agree

learn to read for further comments before posting. if you do, you’ll avoid looking like an ass. nearly an hour before you posted your comment, he posted an addendum that said he know there are people with other views and even people who “love photography and take joy in the sheer act of composing a picture may well have a better time taking pictures than not.” (post #16)

so yeah, try harder not to be an ass.

hegemon13 says:

Definitely a problem

My wife is a big picture-taker. She wants pictures of everything, especially on trips. I like picture memories as well as the next person, but sometimes I can only think “ugh” when I see the camera come out, as it can ruin all the magic of a moment. Worse is, “Honey, quick, take a picture of…”

I have this thing called memory that automatically records everything I see. Rarely can a photo evoke anywhere close the same experience as the original sight, but it can sometimes gut a particularly potent memory. The Grand Canyon is a good example. No picture can portray the way it feels to be staring nearly a mile straight down a completely naturally formed ravine wall. But we couldn’t resist trying. Now, we have some pictures that make it difficult to remember what it really looked like because what I remember now is the picture.

I am not totally anti-photos. I just think that they have become way too big a part of experiencing a “special occasion.” I think it would be interesting to take a camera-less vacation one year, and to go to somewhere particularly beautiful. Somehow, I don’t think I will have any harder a time remembering it.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Definitely a problem

Here’s an addendum:
I will add that my experience is clearly not true for everyone. Those who love photography and take joy in the sheer act of composing a picture may well have a better time taking pictures than not.

I think the problem is when people feel obligated to take pictures or, like my wife, feel guilty for forgetting the camera at a special event.

Richard Esguerra says:

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation!

After doing nothing but take photos on a family trip to Europe, I decided to put away the camera and just “experience things” — but I over-corrected and now have disappointingly few mementos of some very important events.

What I lost completely (and what I’m trying to regain) was that “sixth sense” that impels people to reach for the camera to get a little piece of choice moments — an impulse that is very useful if properly controlled.

Jay says:

While driving in the Colorado mountanins a black bear came out in front of the car and we are screaming WHERE’S THE CAMERA! The bear looked at us, his ears up in the air and eyes dead center on us. This is one of those moments that I was glad that I wasn’t fiddling with the camera. I will never forget that moment. Sometimes a camera cannot explain the whole picture.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am the person that you could look thru my pics of my trip and feel like you were there too.

However, it takes a few seconds to take a pic, and the other 5-10-200 minutes to enjoy the atmosphere.

On our trip to the Palo Duro Canyon, we have a couple hundred pics, however, it was a blast taking a few minutes of time out to enjoy the canyon. It was blazing hot, so we didn’t get to spend as much time “on the ground” (aka out of the vehicle), but we were able to go back to the pics and see what we missed the first time (because the sweat was covering our eyes at the time…lol).

I think you can do both. We pulled over at this one spot in the canyon, I snapped some photos, and we proceeded to start a mini landslide (unintentional, of course) while we were mucking around.

We were able to show the video to my sister, and she was able to look it over, just like she had been standing there.

I do admit there are some people that go too far, esp if you don’t take a few minutes to savor the moment.

Part of the fun of the trip is sitting down after you get home and everyone huddled over the computer saying “Hey, I didn’t know you took that!” or “Hey, I didn’t see that!” or “Where was that from?”. It opens a whole new dimension of the trip…

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

See Both Sides

I see both sides of this one. Sometimes, pulling out a camera forces one to look more carefully at a scene, and actually helps us enjoy it more. It’s like writing: reading about a topic helps you learn, but if you have to write a report, you will really learn about it.

Yet the camera can also be a barrier between a person and the scene, and can blind people to what’s going on outside the LCD.

There certainly is a time and a place for professionals. I marvel at people taking pictures of landscapes in terrible light with lousy cameras, when there is a rack of beautiful professional photos available in the postcard rack or online. If you don’t have a loved one in there, what’s the point? You’re no Ansel Adams, all due respect.

But my main disdain of amateur photogs is the doofuses who click REC on their camcorders and take extremely long, real-time footage of their tourism. I’ve seen people on tour buses and walking the Vegas strip, just holding their cameras all the way. I’ve seen people walking Bourbon St. in N.O., recording their entire night in real time. Who the @#$@# ever looks at that video? Don’t they realize how boring that footage is?

Having video or pictures of a memory can really evoke past moments lived — but you have to make sure you also lived those moments, or you might as well just watch somebody else’s video on YouTube.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: See Both Sides

I marvel at people taking pictures of landscapes in terrible light with lousy cameras, when there is a rack of beautiful professional photos available in the postcard rack or online. If you don’t have a loved one in there, what’s the point? You’re no Ansel Adams, all due respect.

I think it’s not that they think they can make the best photo ever taken of that landscape, but 1) it’s a record of what *I* saw, rather than some pro I don’t know (yes, I know the camera never sees exactly what the human eye does), and 2) if it’s digital, you immediately have it in digital format to do anything you want with, and it’s free. A postcard is good for sending; a big print is good for hanging up; not much else. It all has its place, including amateur landscapes.

Rob says:


The post on perception above is spot-on. Taking a photograph is trivial. Getting a photo that really conveys the sense of the moment is a much tougher task. I have tons of photos that I think of as complete failures because they just don’t come close to capturing the feeling I had when I made them.

I once had the good fortune to experience a night-time launch of the space shuttle from about as close as you can get. During the countdown I checked and re-checked the camera, worrying about getting the shot. In the final seconds of the countdown, with everything ready to go, I just decided that I didn’t want to watch this event through a viewfinder. I stepped back from the camera and just immersed myself in the moment, and to this day I’m glad I did. I noticed all sorts of things I never would have seen otherwise, and that I have never seen anyone else capture on film.

It’s good to get some photos, but take a few moments out to just take in the experience of whatever it is you are shooting.

Henry Mu (user link) says:

Smile, Ummm, Wait a Moment... Smile!

Comments 8 and 18 rock and rule.

My 2 cents: Why do people who have a hard time posing for still shots stop moving when you shoot video?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t smile well during a posed “smile at the camera” shot. Whenever possible, I pretend that I don’t know the camera is there, and the “candid” pix look a lot better that way.

Parents and their children miss a lot when the only view that the parents ever have of big events are rectangular (no matter how hi-res) and the kids never get to look in their parents eyes!

An eye behind a camera is as inanimate as camera itself.

Henry M

bshock (profile) says:

missing the moment may be missing the point

Isn’t it possible that the idea of an “important moment” is just an emotional illusion? Most of what we feel is illusory anyway, including the feeling of importance.

There’s an old saying that the real value of an idea is how you feel about it when you’re sober again.

Isn’t it possible — if not likely — that when you try to “capture” a moment, you’re forced into simple objectivity? If you don’t give it the same emotional value then, that suggests emotional value isn’t terribly valuable.

Look, if you want to get drunk or high or immersed in feeling otherwise, that’s your business. But don’t run around acting like your buzz is the secret of the universe.

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