to be, or not to be a cyclops: of photography, experience, and balancing both

One of the awesomest things about round-the-world adventures is the collection of memories we create, and what better way to remember all those fine details than by having an archive of photographs to commemorate each and every glimpse? Not to mention being able to share those experiences with your friends and family at home…

And not to mention having photographic evidence to be all “You wouldn’t believe that we saw an elephant having a mudbath in Kruger Park!” or “We saw FOUR of the incredibly rare (and endangered) southern ground hornbills!!”

Because would you?

Maybe. But how much better is it when you can prove it?

elephant mudbath

It’s an elephant mudbath! Unreal!! Except that I have photographic evidence. ZING!

Would they know what a southern ground hornbill is? No? VOILA!

the very rare southern ground hornbill


And you won’t even have to try and find that specific subspecies of the hornbill on Google.

Because photos are worth sooo much more than words anyway. Especially since people who spend 40 hours a week in a cubicle might have a hard time imagining the awesomeness you describe to them. I mean, it is true that a photograph is worth a thousand words, but…

When your eye muscles start to cramp and you’ve got a perma-crease in your brow (which may or may not lead to premature wrinkling if you worry about that sort of thing) from clenching one eye shut while the other is pressed against a camera, you start to wonder how much you’re missing outside that frame.

And if you’ve ever spent time photographing animals – especially wildlife – you know that that 2 seconds you spent readjusting your face and stretching out those cramped eye muscles likely just cost you a shot of that lion poking its head out from behind that bush to your right. (Of course, if you have a fancy LCD screen, it saves you from squinting and affords you some peripherals, but this doesn’t override a person’s natural tendency for tunnel-vision anyway.)

K, the 2 second thing might be a slight exaggeration, but not really. It comes in the form of many missed shots…

Case and Point: I still can’t forgive myself for that time I accidentally put my elbow into the shot of the lass next to me when we saw an awesomely huge great white do a half-breach near the boat. I got a blurry shot of a splash with a big grey mass in it. She got a blurry shot of my elbow with beautiful clarity to the airborne water droplets in the slight distance beyond… (Sorry, Cait.)

But is there a line to be drawn when you start to feel like the thing is attached to your face? If you start to develop a tanline in the shape of your camera casing, I’d say it’s time to put it down (although you can wear a brimmed cap and inconspicuously stretch your habit a bit further if you’re especially adamant).

Or maybe the line is somewhere else entirely…. like when it becomes more of a treasure hunt than an experience. ie: how many historical buildings can I take a picture of without actually knowing what any of them are?

If you’re a fan of classic architecture, by all means, go nuts. But … how shall I put this…

A great photograph is like a trophy. It’s a split-second capture from a segment of your life. If it actually is the trophy that it ought to be, it should mean something – the experience, the memory should mean something to you, even if all that meaning is is a fleeting memory to a safari you can’t remember too many details from ten years after the fact but, by golly, that giraffe silhouette against the sunset takes you back to that evening drive, or how that photo of the dog in the window reminds you of that walking tour you did in Brugges with that super funny guide. But the point is: it illicits a memory.

But if all the photo is is just one of a hundred of a walk between your hotel and that river, and you can’t remember anything about it after you get home, was it worth it? Or would you have been better off doing more to experience where you were than just walking around with mechanical tumour attached to your face?

Or worse yet, if getting 761 shots of that elephant isn’t enough to satiate your photography-lust, what will? When being photo-crazy detracts from the experience, it becomes less like adventure and more like Pokemon Snap. But in real life, there is no Professor Ash to critique you, award point-value, and unlock the next level. (Well, unless you are a wildlife photographer and have publishers to answer to, at which point you embrace your techno-face-tumour).

But for the rest of us?

Where do you draw the line to set that camera down and just relish in the marvels of the experience and the sheer awesomeness you worked so hard to give to yourself? Do you want a kick-ass photo-album? Or is it more important to be able to just grin any time you hear or see anything that triggers an elephant-related memory?

Well, I like having a kick-ass photo-album, but I like it even more when I can’t wipe that smile off my face when I see or hear anything that reminds me of places I’ve been or animals I’ve seen, whether I got a picture of that particular thing or not. And my favourite photos? Well, those  always seem to be mementos of the things I did.

So how much is too much? That depends on you and your style. You’ll never regret the photos you take, but you’ll likely regret the experiences you don’t.

It’s a win-win if you can manage both.

…even if the best you could manage is just a blurry snapshot of that time you got buried by flying monkeys.


2 responses to “to be, or not to be a cyclops: of photography, experience, and balancing both

  1. Here are some mor mags , wildlife !

    National Geographic
    National Geographic Kids
    National Geographic Little Kids
    National Wildlife

  2. So gal
    1. When am I going to see you ?
    2. Where do you want to go next
    (Arctic ?)
    3. What will be your focu ? ( Writing ? Photography?)
    4. Have you made an effort to meet
    Mr. Sharkwaters ?
    5.must be some “big” travel mag. needing a writing/photographer par excellence ! Condé Nast Traveller , Outside , Afar .

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