Don’t Stop Staring

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Often when caught staring as a kid, the retort was “Take a picture, it will last longer.” It occurs to me as I travel that this is somehow exactly what happens. Travelers and tourists alike search for the best picture and forget to actually LOOK at what they are taking a picture of. Are pictures somehow more important than looking at a place?

Walking around Syros, which is quite un-Greek like and watching kids scaring the birds.

Travel Through the Looking Glass

I notice the phenomenon in me as well. I look at a site (or sometimes just a cool sign) and line up the proper picture looking at it through the camera. Then I click and before the picture is showing up in preview I am already off looking at something else, only going back if the picture wasn’t right. Despite this self-observed habit, I really want to look and enjoy the places that I have put such effort into finding. That the experience of being there should be just as much worth as the photo somehow proving it. I do not want to experience a place solely through the digital LCD of my camera.

This habit has somehow increased in the time since becoming a blogger. I buy pastries thinking about what I might want a picture of. I look at mundane things thinking, “wow that would have gone well with a post a few weeks back.” or “hey I might need that for another post.” I want to have enough photos to dig through when I am trying to accompany a post. So at times the idea of writing about a place overwhelms the idea of just enjoying it.

See I'm holding up a tower.

So Leave The Camera Behind?

Of course not. I am just as big on pretty pictures as a person could be without being a professional photographer. I love taking pictures and catching odd shapes of shadows on walls and weird run down doors in back alleys. I love looking at other people’s pictures and experiencing things they have seen. The point that I wonder about is whether it seems that the point of travel has somehow BECOME the photos. I laugh at people trying to get the classic pictures of holding up the leaning tower and wonder if they are actually seeing the tower.

I would urge all of us LCD staring travelers to make sure you have memories and experiences to back up the photos you take. If you look at a place in photograph form and don’t get a flood of memories of one sort or another, there may be something wrong. Maybe you missed having an experience just to capture it in a static state. That is what I want to take from this revelation.

I have a number of pictures that I look at and only know where they are from because they are in a labeled folder. Sure they are pretty hills, but I can’t remember the day that I took them. Other pictures are badly aligned and I remember exactly the cold wind that made it hard to hold the camera. I think I would rather more shots like the latter.

Day of arrival from my first transatlantic cruise.


Just the other day I actually saw someone stop and smell the flowers. I was high above in the fitness studio watching people go by as I tried to work off the chocolate and beer from the past week. This woman stopped at a cross walk and leaned over to smell the flowers before moving on. It was so cool and reminded me again that the enjoyment is the thing. I will try to remember that moment when I travel next.

So I am not leaving my camera home or in my pocket. I certainly want pictures of my travels. I want them for posts and for sharing with friends and family. I just want to make sure that I truly see what I have traveled to see and not just “get the picture” and move on. This is all supposed to be fun and not solely preparation of a set of slides. I want to remember my trip when I look at my pictures. To remember the smells and the feelings.

Do you see people ignoring the sites to take pictures of them? Do you catch yourself doing that?

18 thoughts on “Don’t Stop Staring

  1. I take a lot of pictures, but I also try to enjoy what’s around because there are things the camera can’t capture. I don’t think I’d leave it behind entirely though either because years from now, I want to remember more than just bits and pieces and going through the photos I took and the blog posts I wrote closely following the experience will help jog those memories. I do remember my Grandma telling me about a trip her sister took somewhere though where she spent the whole time only looking through the lense of the camera. I forget what happened, but she lost ALL her photos. She was so upset she decided never to take a camera with her again and only to look closely so she could preserve the memories for herself by paying attention. I understand her reasoning, but I would feel a little selfish even if I were capable of doing that. So many of my family and friends will never have the opportunity to see the places I’m seeing or do the things I’m doing, so I feel a bit of a duty to capture as much as I can so that, if nothing else, they can live vicariously a bit.

    • Like most everything, it requires balance. See what there is to see and take some pictures as well.

  2. I see that so often, it’s frightening. During the years when I lived in Paris, I couldn’t believe the thousands of people who had crossed oceans and/or continents to visit the city and were not actually looking at anything but their camera.
    The worst being at the Louvre, where most tourists rush through the corridors not caring about a single piece of art. Why is that? Well, to go see the Mona Lisa of course. No, scratch that: to go take a picture of the Mona Lisa without even looking at the actual painting at all. Of course, that picture would be crappy and represent nothing: not the Mona Lisa (you simply can’t take a good picture of the Mona Lisa, the glass protection, the light, the crowd, you just can’t), not the experience, nothing.
    Of course, this painting is far from being the most interesting thing in the Louvre, but it’s the only thing they know, and mind you they’d want to learn and discover something new.

    Rant off..

    Personally, when I’m travelling, I try to have an healthy mix of taking pictures and just looking at things around me, but I am more and more guilty of taking pictures “for the blog”, pictures I wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

    • That is such a good example, David. We bloggers do seem to get into taking pictures for our sites, but hopefully we too remember to enjoy where we are.

  3. I was doing that a lot but then I decided to “calm down” a bit… It’s hard not to take many pics especially when I see something new, but now I try to take just one picture and then enjoy the rest of the time. I think that improving our photography skills helps a lot: you take a shot and it’s good, no need to try again and loose more time.
    In the end I always found myself with hundreds of pics of the same thing! Not that useful…
    But I always have the camera on me, in case something unexpected comes out 🙂

    • Indeed the idea of being able to take good photos quickly means that the temptation to just take tons of pics to hope for a few decent ones is less. So practice makes perfect, but still there needs to be a balance even in practice.

  4. I found myself nodding as I was reading this. I hardly used to take any photos – then I started blogging and now I take way too many photos. I love to scuba dive and was thinking of getting into underwater photography until a French couple we were diving with were so busy taking a photo of something small that they completely missed 80 hammerhead sharks. I decided after that just to enjoy the experience of diving instead of trying to photograph it.

    • Wow.. I can’t imagine missing something like 80 sharks. Yeah, those are the kind of moments that are really cool to have on “film”, but are far better in memory than not at all because you were trying to get something else at that moment.

  5. Absolutely agree with what you’re saying – 10 years ago I walked the Inca Trail alongside a chap who shakily videoed every single step, back when video cameras were still quite large. He missed everything along the way and he (or more likely his unfortunate porter) had to carry an extra 5kgs of batteries.

    • Wow, if that isn’t a story of a waste of effort. If you are going to do something like walk that amazing trail, at least enjoy it. Sure take pictures, but not at the expense of the experience.

  6. You have hit on something I have said many times. If people just come to see places and take photos, then they missed out on the purpose of travel. The best experiences aren’t photos you bring home with your camera – it’s the experiences you have with others. That goes along with you stop and really look – stop and really live and experience where you are. The only photo of that lives in your heart and mind and last much longer than the picture.

    • Your post totally resonates with us! No matter how good a picture we take, we always feel that being there, the moment itself, the experience and the interactions we have is what’s priceless! That is why it is never enough to just look at a picture… You have to go and see and experience for yourself.

      • Pictures can be a powerful tool, but usually to trigger some memory or feeling. We just need those feelings in our memory for them to be triggered. I love looking at my pictures, but they are windows to the memories.
        Thanks for putting it the way you did. 🙂

  7. I agree, taking good pictures can take time away from just leaning back and enjoying the place. But on the other hand, I have also noticed that as I’m getting better at taking pictures, I also find little details in the places I visit that I wouldn’t have seen without looking for that good pictures. You know what I mean? So, I guess, taking pictures can also enhance a destination in a weird way. But overall, as with everything, moderation is probably key 😉

    • Practice does indeed help. And yeah, I do know what you mean. I am often looking around the main sights for cool little side things to take pictures of. I love random doors for example.
      Indeed, moderation. Do not forget the memories for the pictures, do not skip the ephemeral for the permanent.

  8. I am definitely guilty of focusing on taking plenty of photos for my blog when I should be looking around and enjoying myself. But I always, always do stand there and look after the photos are taken. I like to take the pictures first to make sure I’ve got them, then I feel free to relax and enjoy. And what you wrote about observing someone actually stop to smell flowers is timely for me. I go to visit some neighbors of mine every night, and for a few nights some really beautiful roses were in full bloom at the bottom of their stairs. I stopped and smelled them every time. So I may take too many photos, but I take the time to experience stuff too 🙂

    • That is good to stand and look. I wrote this partially because I see myself sometimes just looking for the picture and not enjoying the experience. By writing things out, I hope to change myself.
      What do roses smell like? I’m not sure I would recognize that specific flower. Hmm. Maybe a trip to the botanical gardens is in order.

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