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Living with Photography: Missing the Moment

By Norman Chan

With the ubiquity of cameraphones and portable action cams, there are just too many Kodak moments.

Over the holiday break, I took a weekend off to go on a ski trip to Tahoe. I haven't gone skiing in two years, so I was a little nervous about getting back on the slopes after a prolonged hiatus. But I was more excited about the idea of bringing decent camera equipment with me to the mountain. This was the first time I would be skiing while carrying a decent cameraphone, and I also had the Sony RX100 that we just reviewed. Both fit into my large ski jacket without feeling cumbersome.

I was not prepared, though, for how having these two cameras would disrupt my skiing experience.

The ski resort I went to was Homewood, which has long prided itself for having the "best view in Tahoe." On a clear day like the one I went on, this claim was easy to believe. In fact, the views were almost too good. The first time I reached the top of the mountain, I pulled out both my iPhone and the RX100 to take a few photos, fiddling with landscape and HDR settings on the latter to make the most of the opportunity. Stitched panoramas were invented for these kinds of landscape shots.

But as I skied down a long run down the mountain, I couldn't help but stop every 30 seconds or so to take more photos. The views seemed to just keep getting better. Every time I stopped to snap a photo, I would tell myself "just one more picture", but that was never the case. By the time I reached the end of the run, I had over two dozen photos from the course. Total elapsed time for a trail that would normally have taken a few minutes to traverse? 45 minutes.

But boy did I get some really nice shots.

During subsequent ski runs down different paths, my mind couldn't resist the urge to stop and take photos. And I started to notice that I wasn't alone. Groups of skiers and snowboarders would stop at the crowd-determined optimal places along the runs to take photos of themselves or with friends. At one junction (where I shot the view seen in the photo to the right), I counted 14 people stopped with cameras out to take photos. The ski resort might as well have corded off a section of mountain off for photo opportunities and charge tickets; we were all getting in the way of people who wanted to actually enjoy skiing.

Cameraphones were the dominant photography device being used on the mountain--cellular reception was actually pretty good--though I saw few point-and-shoots and many GoPros. It was almost like a photography was integrated into the ritual: tapping the record button on a GoPro is just another step between attaching snowboard bindings and adjusting ski goggles. It made me think about how future cameras like Google's Project Glass would be used on the mountain, and how distracting it'll be for those skiers to balance between having fun and shooting the most awesome ski video. This is a dangerous path we're going down.

It's not a new idea that photography can be a detrimental distraction; time spent fumbling with cameras and settings takes away from your (and possibly other people's) enjoyment of a moment. It happens everywhere and all the time--finding that balance between enjoying a location for what it is and preserving that experience in a photograph is a personal preference. I just didn't expect it create such an inner conflict until I had access to portable cameras that took quality photos I would want to keep. We always say that the best camera is the one you have with you. But if the point of taking a photo is to preserve a memory, the best camera you have will always be your eyes.

I left both the phone and RX100 in the car the next day, and as a result had a much better time.

So my question for photographers is this: how do you choose whether to let your eyes and mind enjoy a moment versus taking out your camera to snap a photo? Are there places where you don't take your cameras because you know you won't be able to resist using them?