Travel Miscellaneous, Travel Tips

Put down the camera; Learning to Really Capture the Moment When We Travel

by Jill Robinson

There is something about embarking on a new adventure, exploring new cultures, places, food and smells that keeps a wandering mind satisfied. Flipping through travel journals, old photos and indulging in the many books that inspire me to daydream continue to motivate me to educate myself about the world. Traveling is by far one of the most effective classrooms -as long as we can stop long enough to take in our surroundings.

With internet becoming faster, cell phones becoming smarter and digital cameras becoming sleeker, we can capture our environment in a matter of clicks. But is this a good thing? The New York Times featured an article, Abroad- At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus, leading me to re-evaluate the way I look at my surroundings, whether at home or abroad.

No photo will do this scene justice.

Example of how photos can’t always capture a moment.  (Photo of bullfight in Madrid).

I know that I’ve been guilty of observing my environment more through my view-finder on my camera than really taking note of, say, the golds and smoky smudges of a sunset over the Edinburgh skyline. We panic, we don’t want to miss a detail, we must save this moment forever to show family and friends who are never quite as enthusiastic as we hope, and then – click, click, click, we run off to the nearest internet cafe to download our treasures. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times article:

“So tourists now wander through museums, seeking to fulfill their lifetime’s art history requirement in a day, wondering whether it may now be the quantity of material they pass by rather than the quality of concentration they bring to what few things they choose to focus upon that determines whether they have “done” the Louvre. It’s self-improvement on the fly.” Big Ben

Reading this , I hung my head a little embarrassed. Studying abroad in London for a summer when I was in college, I made a check list of “must see’s.” I was so excited to be culturally enriched, to come back home and throw out names and artists and historical sites that I missed the point along the way. I was so busy rushing from one cathedral or museum or anything else that was easy on my meager savings that the pictures have blurred together. I couldn’t tell you specifics of any photo that included a grand architectural structure, except that I had been there, and at the time I thought that was good enough to deem me “well-traveled.”

Luckily, in a more recent trip, my digital camera broke and I had to resort to a Polaroid camera and six, colored pencils to capture whatever sunset I thought was extraordinary. Anyone who has owned a Polaroid knows that you are very picky about what you photograph, or at least I am, considering one picture costs about $2.00. When I returned home, what I was lacking in picture slide show material, I more than made up for in mental images that I will remember forever. Apparently, the greens and blues of an ocean stand out so much more when you aren’t looking through a lens.

Of course we will always take pictures or video on our future adventures, but the question to ask ourselves is why we travel, why are we  studying abroad, and why have we decided to leave the comforts of our home for a hotel with only ice cold water or scalding hot. To really learn from this global classroom we have to observe, ask questions, squint into a sun that will never allow for the right exposure for that scenic photo. This is how we learn to become tolerant and open-minded and enriched. This is why we travel.

“Travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keep our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau, wrote, ‘There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.’ Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end; mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”  –Pico Iyer  from “Why We Travel”


About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.


8 thoughts on “Put down the camera; Learning to Really Capture the Moment When We Travel

  1. Rachel makes an interesting point. In the article referenced in the blog entry above, the author talks about those fortunate enough to take the “Grand Tour” across Europe in the 18th Century, and how, in that era before film-based photography (much less cell phone “photography”), people spent time, among other things, sketching where they were at. This, of course, required time, deep consideration, and much thought. Which is exactly how Rachel describes her experience as a photographer–she uses it as a modern-day method of exploration as well as documentation, giving the subject and the process the time and thought it deserves. Which, in a way, is similar to the “Polaroid” experience as described in the blog post. Each picture means something, and each moment can really only be captured once. Each picture is a choice.

    This, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be the case with the masses carrying tiny digital cameras (or worse yet, cell phones with cameras) as described in the NYT article, and as witnessed by me at Chicago’s Art Institute; artwork being seen through a lens but never really “looked” at; the throw-away mindset of taking 10 of the same picture and deleting the 9 worst later; the missing-the-point of it all. Cheers to artists and seers of the world like Rachel, and the hope that our ability to slow down, think, and feel a work of art, be it natural or man-made, hasn’t been snuffed out quite yet.

    Posted by Hugh | August 8, 2009, 12:52 pm
  2. I have a little different thought as a college student who is studying photography at an art university. I actually find that photography allows me to appreciate even more what I’m seeing surrounding me because it allows me to stop where I am situated and think and stare at the space for several moments. As an artist, I don’t just stand there and snap a shot. I stand at the spot for several seconds and think about how the space means to me. As I’m thinking, I think about how I exactly want to shoot the photos, which includes where do I exactly want to shoot and what composition. On top of that, since I use an SLR camera, I also have to think about the technical aspects such as the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. When I think about the technical aspect, I have to think about if I want the background to be blurry or sharp and if I want to see blurred motion or frozen motion. So, all of these decisions play an important role to what message am I trying to tell the viewers.

    Then, when I come home and see the pictures, I always feel as if I’m reliving through the memories. I can definitely tell you that I’m always going through my blog archives just to pretend that I’m living through the moment again as I feel that I can step inside the picture. In fact, sometimes I never realize how grand many of the places are until I see the pictures!

    Another thing – Photography allows me to meet new people because I absolutely love doing documentary photography. So, when I photograph people, not only I take a snapshot of them, but also, I always try to communicate with them to learn more about their life and culture, and of course, if the country is speaking a foreign language, it gives me the opportunity to practice speaking in its language! I always think of my camera as a tool to broaden my vision of the world surrounding me.

    Posted by Rachel | August 7, 2009, 1:27 am
    • Another food for thought – because one of my main goals as a travel photographer is to capture the culture and the lifestyle of the locals, I need to venture beyond the tourist spots and visit the places where the locals live. So, photography is giving me a way to motivate me to venture the off beat tracks.

      Posted by Rachel | August 7, 2009, 1:33 am
    • Thanks Rachel! Those are some really good points, and I think there are those that travel and snap pictures without thinking and then those who really take into consideration the story they are trying to tell. From what we have been able to view of your photographs, you really take the time to capture the moment! I definitely am not against photos, I just need to take in my surroundings more in depth so I can re-visit my pictures knowing what a great experience I had. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work!

      Posted by Greenheart Travel | August 7, 2009, 2:20 pm


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