Is It Possible To Be Fully Present in the Moment and Also Capture It?

Is It Possible To Be Fully Present in the Moment and Also Capture It?

Does having a camera in our hands reduce the enjoyment of experiences we are witnessing around us?

The first article I ever wrote in 2020 discussed how the travel industry, as well as the natural habitat of popular destinations, have been affected by our need of documenting everything around us, primarily with smartphones, which are so accessible nowadays. Long gone are the days where we have to wait days for our travel photos to be developed, because today, we live in an instant world. A study, that I mentioned in the article, looked into how we perceive the experiences we partake and how the ability of sharing or not sharing them through photos impact our enjoyment of the whole event.

Similarly, Robert Roy Britt, an independent health and science journalist, explored this topic, but the studies he highlighted had inconclusive results, with one finding that on average, we do enjoy the experience less if we are asked to not only participate but also take images along the way. While another study conducted in 2016, where participants took part in bus tours and excursions for a meal, found that those who took photographs actually enjoyed it more. Not just that, these participants also reported that they were more engaged in the activities, too.

Several people enjoying sun shine by a canal.

Clearly, there isn't one final answer on whether our enjoyment increases or decreases when we try to create photographic memories of our experiences and travels. However, two additional studies Britt describes focused on a slightly different question: does taking or not taking photographs affect our memory of what we saw and experienced?

These two led to almost opposite findings yet again, which brings us to square one, or rather, it just shows how differently image-taking is affecting us, our memory, and our experiences as a whole. What can we learn from this? In whichever way taking photographs shapes your life, make sure you are conscious about enjoying each of the experiences you have. That way, you don't end up not being fully present whether you are taking a few photographs or actually enjoying that trip or a nice meal. Also, set time aside to actually interact with the images you have produced, instead of simply creating them and never revisiting them. 

You can read more about all the studies mentioned here.

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14 Comments

Gary Pardy's picture

Fundamentally, I would say, no... one cannot be wholly present in a moment while also putting a part of their effort and focus into capturing it. However, I would say that capturing a moment is an experience in and of itself and often requires a greater level of deliberation, appreciation and intent that may not be present in simply being... uh... present.

Kirk Darling's picture

I don't think there is a disparity or paradox that a person can fully enjoy an experience when photographs are merely documentation of the activity for a picture-taker versus when the reason the photographer is there is to document the activity.

I know that when I am fully immersed in documenting the activity, I'm not just snapping here and there, but I'm creating a photographic story of the event. I'm mapping out beginning, middle, and end. I'm looking continuously for the events-within-the-event that will re-create the event for my audience. So, no, I'm not actually part of that moment, I'm mentally outside that moment. I'm examining it, dissecting it, analyzing it.

I've certainly had the feeling that I don't experience the event until do the editing. And and that regard, I may actually experience it more deeply--if differently..

Charles Mercier's picture

I am certainly distracted. I do sometimes know that I'm too busy taking photos to fully experience the moment. Sometimes though, I only need to only take a photo or two but occasionally, I'm very busy taking many photos with the knowledge that I'll have some great photo memories.

Anete Lusina's picture

I can relate! Sometimes I would just say to myself, "that would make a beautiful photo" and I try to "take" it just with my eyes - especially when it's something so fleeting like a sunset and you only have your phone on you and you may not be in the right location for the shot, etc.

Michael Comeau's picture

For me, getting the shot IS the moment.

Sam Sims's picture

On the other hand, I’ve captured a number of satisfying photos travelling from one place to another, in places seemingly uninspiring to most people. Make the journey your photoshoot. Btw, I got that last bit from some photographers at the last exhibition I attended before the pandemic.

Btw, it is cringeworthy the people at concerts (pre covid) and other once in a lifetime events who spend the time staring at their phone screen capturing some dodgy video of the event.

Michael L. McCray's picture

I have learned it is better to sit and enjoy the moment most of the time. It is how I make my living not how I want to live my life.

Matt White's picture

To me I'm actually more present when I'm shooting as well. Goes for watching bands, being on holiday, or visiting a museum or exhibition.

Might have something to do with my mind (psychiatrist suspects mild ADHD), but if I'm taking photos I'm constantly re-engaging with the moment. I'm looking at everything, I'm thinking about what's going on. I end up in the zone at a gig where I'm already reacting to a guitarist's jump before he's in the air, or in a landscape where I'm picking up on every tree in the woods rather than just seeing 'the woods'.

When it's like that there's no room for anything else, and my head is fully engaged and present.

David Greenberg's picture

Compartmentalization is key. When I'm out for the purpose of capturing landscapes or nature, I'm actively looking for the shot but once it's found I consciously put the camera aside and absorb the view or object's beauty, fleeting moments aside. It is not effortless without practice, but all the more rewarding when viewing the image. A side-benefit, taking further advantage of the compartments having been formed, is awareness of other potential opportunities nearby or a simple reframing.

Hunter Chan's picture

This reminds me of the times when I hated the habits of my mom stopping along the way and taking photos on a vacation. By then my mom was like: "C'mon, just a minute." and then she came back with 20+ photos in her album. But now I was like: "You guys could go have dinner first, and I'm gonna stay on this scene and try shoot in different perspectives and new ideas and......Yeah, I'll come back after an hour and a half or so......" and an hour later I came back with 5 photos in my card...Apparantly a lot more severe symptoms......😂😂😂

Peter Mueller's picture

Possibly one of the significant differences between a "true" photographer who consistently captures great images, isn't in the "seeing" or the "experiencing of the moment" aspect, but the discipline to identify what is/was seen. Meaning, the majority experience a great image, be it a sunset, a landscape, a "decisive moment" while walking on the sidewalk; but that image is mixed in with the thousands of other frames (in the mind) preceding and following. That person knows that they just experienced a grand moment, but in the aggregate. The photographer actually captured the precise moment, that one frame in the middle which was the actual or precise moment making the experience great. Both experienced the greatness however. In my opinion...

Robert Lype's picture

As a Photojournalist is necessary for me to immerse my self in an event or situation in order to produce images that reflects the mood. Its not always easy to find the one shot that tells the story and not let your emotions get in the way its a fine line. Maintaining your composure while shooting is difficult while trying to remain bias it doesnt matter if its your favorite team or a political driven event it is not easy.
A freind of mine who tags along occasionally while Iam shooting put it this way "it like he is in a trans looking for that one shot watching for that one little detail its not easy keeping up with him"
For an image to be admired no matter the subject it has to portray emotion, the image has to put the viewers mind in the scene making the viewer look in to the details and feel what the photographer trying to say. This task isn't easy and drains the photographer emotionally after while it becomes a like a drug wanting to better the last shot.
Even during my time off a camera is always close by is part of the lifestyle I would feel naked with out one,
With todays phones with the camera is causing the world show up just to do a selfie or video an event to prove they where at an event just to post it on media trying to make them feel important.
I find my self not attending large gatherings on my time off just for the fact I am tired of looking at the people in front of me trying to record every single moment of their life on their phone with total disregard to the people around them

Mike Shwarts's picture

To some degree you pay more attention to details when you are photography a scene or event. In other ways you separate yourself from what you are photographing.

As an example, I like to photograph airshows. I concentrate on the aircraft in a visual sense while making photos. But sometimes I ignore the other people around me. I sometimes block out the announcers talking about the planes and pilots and history. To some degree I even block out the sounds of the aircraft. Lately I try to take some photos then put the camera down and listen and look with ears, eyes and brain. Then I take a few more photos and repeat.

Thomas Bevan's picture

Thumbs up, interesting article. I know that feeling when I spend too much time taking photos rather than enjoy the surrounding view. It is funny that I found this article before my next https://en.altezza.travel/ trip to Africa. I'm planning a Spring vacation in Africa so there will be a lot of great moments to capture. Hope I could be fully present at the moment while taking photos.