There’s nothing quite like getting out of town for a weekend to reset the mind and refresh the body. So when August rolled around I decided I needed to hit the road. After tossing around a few ideas with my girlfriend, we decided that Wilmington, N.C. would be a solid destination. We invited a few close friends, booked an awesome duplex downtown and packed up for a weekend at the coast. My bag included all the must-haves, toiletries, linens, clothes, but I decided for this trip I was going to leave my camera at home. I’ve been shooting for a long time — graduated from college with a background in photography — and my camera often feels like an extension of my own body, but I had an urge to break away from it for a weekend to just focus on the memories being made.
Unfortunately for me, no one else in our group shared my sentiment.
I’m not much for tourist attractions. I prefer to search a town for it’s underground culture and hidden gems, but most in our group had a few must-see locations on their list, including the N.C. Battleship and the Aquarium. To avoid raining on their parades, I decided I might as well go with the flow and indulge in some kitschy fun.
Keeping an open mind, I entered the aquarium with an optimistic outlook on the experience, after all, tropical fish are always fun to watch, and who doesn’t like petting stingrays? It was a rainy friday, so the place was crawling with children and adults looking for an escape out of the house. The max occupancy sign at the entranceway read “960.” Squeezing through to get to the first atrium, I questioned whether a fire marshall would have been ok with the crowd, it seemed like there were at least that many people in the front lobby alone.
To my surprise, the screaming and yelling didn’t seem to bother me much. Neither did being packed into tiny corridors, or employees trying to sell me stuffed sharks around every corner. The 30-minute wait to see the jellyfish didn’t really phase me, and the fact that we were 20 minutes late to the diving show wasn’t really a big problem. No, amongst all this chaos and disorder, there was only one thing that irked me. No one was actually looking at the fish, not one person. Instead, virtually everyone had their arsm stretched out with a phone in their hand. Aimed at the fish tanks, they all hoped to capture a unique image to upload to the social media site of their choice.
Now I’m not poking fun at Instagram or Google+ or 500px or Flickr or any of the other photo sharing sites. I think sharing photos is great, and it’s revoloutionized the way we interact and communicate. But shouldn’t we take a few moments to enjoy the scenery around us, to really connect with our surroundings, instead of battling for likes through redundent and often poorly taken photos.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of this myself. All too often I find myself reaching for my phone in an impulsive whirl, desperately trying to capture a moment that is most likely insignificant and uninteresting. But I’m trying to get better, I’m working hard to focus back in on reality.
How you ask?
By asking myself these simple questions before snapping a photo:
1. Will I ever go back and look at this image? We all create tons of data on a daily basis. If the image is just going to junk up my phone or waste space in my catalogue, I don’t take the photo.
2. Is this moment unique? Is it special? People are constantly uploading pictures of food they order, their desk at work, their backyard. If it isn’t a unique moment that will never again be duplicated, I don’t take the photo.
3. Am I only taking this picture so that I can brag about it later on social media? Arrogance doesn’t look good on anyone. If it makes me feel like a jerk, I don’t take the photo.
4. Will pulling out my phone interrupt the activity I want to photograph? Whether it’s an intimate family dinner or trivia night at the tavern, I will never jeopardize a real experience in exchange for a few pixels. If it distracts me or my current company, I don’t take the photo.
5. Does the image contain people I love doing meaningful things? People are worthwhile, and are often the most interesting subjects. If the photo is significant because of the people in the composition, then I’ll take the photo.
Photography is an amazing form of expression, and there’s a bright future for the medium, especially now that there over a billion tiny lenses in pockets worldwide. Just be sure to shoot responsibly! Ask yourself these simple questions before pushing the trigger, and you’ll find that the pictures you do take will become a whole lot more meaningful.
Image source: Amanda Rose Photo