Rick linked to Crow‘s argument against taking a camera along on outdoor excursions. How I see it:
- Sharing: I hike, my wife doesn’t, but she likes to see what I’m seeing out there. And my weekly photo essays have developed a bit of a following, so I feel sort of obliged to keep the customers satisfied.
- Learning: It’s easy to snap a shutter release, but taking pictures worth looking at is a knack you can spend a lifetime acquiring.
- Observing: Taking pictures obliges you to see in a new way, and it teaches you to keep an eye out for vistas, wildlife and other sights you might miss otherwise.
- Remembering: The Kodak moments, obviously, but also something else: the rare — but in my mind way cool — experience of a sense memory, when your brain suddenly recalls the sounds and smells of something long forgotten. Pictures can be handy for triggering those memories.
- The weight: Good cameras are heavy; taking them along obliges you to leave something behind. Compact point-and-shoots take weight off, but you sacrifice image quality.
- The inconvenience: Having to break up your stride to take a picture is bad enough when you’re alone, but in a group you’re either changing your pace to keep up or missing shots to avoid slowing everybody else down.
- The moments: This was Crow’s main point, that time spent looking for great pictures comes at the expense of having great experiences. I find this point persuasive enough to encourage the shutterbugs to at least consider leaving the camera at home.
- The reality that pictures do lie: Photographic evidence is in many cases highly overrated. To say that a two-dimensional image captured for a thousandth of a second within the narrow field of a camera’s shutter opening represents “reality” is an exaggeration at best. Pictures are nice, but they convey such a tiny slice of the experience of living that it’s hardly a major sacrifice to go cameraless.
As usual, I’m in the middle of the road. It seems like you could become so preoccupied with chasing great images that you’d risk losing the visceral thrill of being out there, but I’m thinking if you asked the great outdoor photographers about this, they’d say the visceral thrill is what gets them out there to begin with.
This reminds me of the question that helps simplify the decision to try lightweight or ultralight backpacking: are you a hiker, or a camper? If you’re a hiker with trivial interest in camping, then why take along a ton of camping gear? But if you’re a camper, why sacrifice your fun just to walk a few more miles? If you’re a photographer, a camera’s sort of a requirement. But if not, why complicate things in a place where the point is to have an uncomplicated experience?
Very good thoughts, Tom, that have inspired a few more for me. I think both pluses and minuses boil down to the net effect on my “hiking state”, which is most influenced by where my attention is focused. To the extent that the camera encourages me (and those I share with) to focus my attention out into my surroundings, I find it beneficial.
For instance, the camera helps me resist my mind’s tendency to withdraw my attention from my surroundings into thoughts of other things. I cast my senses out into the world, so that I’ll notice if a good photo presents itself. In the next breath though, it can start me thinking about my blog writeup or who I will share the photos with, and my attention is back in my head again.
In the end it’s not the camera I’m concerned about, it’s my own attention – something I will struggle with regardless of whether I have a camera along.
Good points, Tom. I still do take a camera. The photos help me relive the hikes and share them with others, especially the hikes in out of the way places, like the Snowman trek in Bhutan, or the West Coast Trail. But I agree, it would also be a lot of fun to travel even lighter, and without having to lug around a dSLR…
One of my own goals when I occasionally drag along my film camera, heavy lens, and tripod out on the trail is to deliberately take pictures that “lie”. Or put another way, I try to paint a picture with the camera rather than take a picture that looks like an accurate image of the scene. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea but that is OK. To each their own as they say.
As far as my own skill, I’m not very good at it but I enjoy trying. I still have a lot to learn. A couple of photographers who I think do a great job at creative photography are Tony Sweet (www.tonysweet.com) and John Barclay (www.barclayphoto.com).
I have it in mind that when the wild flowers really come out at Henry Coe in the coming month or so, I am going to drag my camera and tripod out there and do my best to create some abstracts. I may fail in creating anything of note, but I will have fun trying!
Couldn’t agree more with all your comments. There was a time for years and years when I never had a camera along on my hikes, then when technology made it cheap and easy to produce brilliant images and review / share them instantaneously, I got hooked again. I agree with and echo what Cynthia says about capturing something different from the reality at hand. If I can photograph a prosaic scene and make it come off like an archetypal or iconic image, then I’ve succeeded. But, alas, success rates are low for us amateurs. But, fail? Never, if you try!
The ability to share changes the equation quite a bit. Used to be you might shoot a couple rolls, get them developed, look at them twice, put in an album if you’re ambitious, then completely forget about them for years at a stretch.
With digicams, blogging and photo-sharing tools so common and easy to use, it’s much easier to argue in favor of taking the cam so somebody else can benefit from your experience.
The “leave your camera at home” argument was definitely stronger in the film era.
Regarding the sharing aspects, I have one more fantasy for my pictures, especially my attempts at creative ones. And that is to evoke an emotion for the place, that our parks and open spaces are special places worth saving not only for our enjoyment, but for their pure beauty. I don’t know, I probably don’t express myself well but its important to me that we have undeveloped wild places for wildlife habitat that we can visit in part through trails. I’ve met people who would just as soon pave it all over and who don’t care what happens to places they may never visit. I want to take a picture that inspires people to want to save those places. Its a fantasy I’ll probably never achieve but the more people trying the better. And the hiking part gets me out there!
If the point is *only* to have an uncomplicated experience, best just sit on a rock in your backyard where you don’t have to worry about the complications of getting to the trail head, pitching tent, blisters, trail-finding, finding water, etc. etc. 😉
Your forgot one “plus” for taking the camera… even if you are not a professional photographer, and even if your motives are not altruistic (sharing) or to help you observe, or to remember, Taking photos is FUN! And touching them up in Photoshop is FUN too!
But probably the number one reason to take a camera hiking is to increase your chances of getting selected as “Flickr hiking pic o’ the day”!!!!!!!!!!!!!