Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why I don’t take photos

Everywhere on the internet you'll find stunning photographs. There are thousands of photo-streams, galleries and blogs showcasing people's images.
Nature blogs, in particular, are just brimming with breathtaking photos.

Except for mine.

Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy beautiful photos as much as anyone. There was even a time when I took wildlife photos myself (never very good ones, mind you) and - out in my shed – I've a stack of dusty transparencies to prove it.
But I stopped. Why?
Because gradually I came to realise that photography was changing the way I perceived the world.
Instead of thinking, 'Oh what a glorious place!', I'd be wondering, 'Would this make a good photo?'. I started seeing nature in snapshot-sized pieces, framing everything within a view finder in my mind. Photography doesn't prevent you from observing wonderful things (unless, of course, you happen to be fighting to open your camera bag, or changing lenses, or searching for that spare battery). On the whole, you still get to see the cheetah racing after the springbok lamb, or the baby baboons dangling wrong-way-up from their father's tail. But what do you feel?
Awe? Enchantment? Joy?
Who has time for these, while stressing about shutter-speeds, aperture settings, composition and lighting?

This lovely photograph of a leopard was NOT taken by me (even though I found fresh leopard prints on my driveway yesterday). It was, however, taken in Kruger (by Penny Maddocks) and was scrounged - as usual - from the park's public sightings gallery.

For me, the clincher came one day in Kruger National Park. I was driving beneath the fig trees along the Timbavati River when a leopard stepped on to the road in front of me. Now, leopards are truly stunning animals. Apart from the shock value of a large 'professional killer', the leopard has a coat that almost dazzles your eyes, like some sort of iridescent optical illusion.
This leopard sauntered off the road and sat down in the dry grass right next to my car. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited I could barely grab up my camera.
But there was the grass. Try as I might, I just couldn't get a photo that didn't have stalks of grass in front of the cat's face. 'If only he'd sat a meter to the left', I thought in anguish. 'If only he'd turn his head two inches to the right!'
He didn't. After a few minutes, he rose to his feet, stretched languidly and strolled off into the vegetation. For the rest of the morning I felt awful. Angry, frustrated and disappointed, I just couldn't settle back into the tranquillity of watching wildlife. Yet I'd just witnessed something amazing; an unbelievably rare privilege. Why wasn't I elated? Why wasn't I dancing on air?! It was then that I knew. No more photographs.

Ever since then I've left my camera at home. I seem to be the only person in the universe who thinks this way. If you don't believe me, try holidaying in a National Park or tourist destination sans camera, and watch how people react.
Starting this blog has thrown me into a quandary. Blogs need pictures. Reluctantly, I've started carrying a camera again. But when it comes to the crunch, when I have to choose between experiencing a wildlife encounter or taking a photo, I'm afraid I'm going to opt for wonder and joy every time.
I just thought I'd better warn you!


  1. No you are not the only person! I have been saying this for several months. Quite often i leave my camera at home. I want to experience the moment in nature, not the stress of trying to photograph it and i realized i was missing so much by monkeying around with the d@** thing. Fantastic, professional quality photos are now a dime a dozen and my poor wee camera cannot get shots like that. [Absolutely no offence to anyone out there at all-i love your gorgeous photos, which i cannot take!!!]

    In fact, this week, while walking, i have been playing with the idea of putting a challenge on my blogspot, to blog for the month of June without photos. Do blogs need photos? But then i think a month is a long time which brings the thought: A poor sign of society to become so visually dependant and not to be able to be stimulated by writing. What would Thoreau say-lol!

    I think you are doing great writing what you want and then getting a photo from the net.
    (That's the other part i haven't decided about the challenge, can i use other's photos, can i scan in a sketch if i sketch something? The objective is to put my own camera down.)

    Again, no offence is intended at all, but i don't prefer the photo blogs. I like to read people's "journaling" and maybe one or two photos thrown in. [Unless of course, i'm in love with 4 or 5 and cannot choose my two favorites].

    So i've rambled long enough, but please do not feel alone out there! There is at least one woman in NM who feels the exact same way! Don't change a thing unless you really feel moved to!

    meggs, the desertnutmeg.

  2. This is a very interesting perspective Lynda and I have to at least partially agree with you on all you said. :)

    I guess it is all a matter of what we get used to doing. In so many ways I want to capture the splendor of the moment and be able to show people the beauty of what I see in nature but even though I carry my camera around with me all the time, there are incidents where I am so enthralled with what I am seeing that I completely forget about it.

    My main reason for taking pictures now is to be able to share my world and part of Africa with others out there. People never seem to be aware of the insects which share our space and consider them to be only pests.

    I guess being a tour guide for so long my idea of sharing comes from there but this does not mean that I miss seeing anything there is in front of me or even partially hidden. I took thousand of slides before I knew about Blogs and photographic forums just so I was able to go back and look at them and re-capture the moment I shared with these special animals and nature as a whole. There were times I did not have my camera with me and missed out on some spectacular shots such as a huge python swallowing a porcupine, but it did not bother me that I missed catching it on film as the memory of it lives inside my head and when I drive by the spot, I think of it again.

    BTW I think I know that leopard. Is it the one who’s area is near the trees that hang over the road and the river is so open? The spot is closer to Orpen? Our camp was in Timbivati so I would often see it there marking its territory.

    Thanks for sharing your views on this. I am always interested in what others think on various subjects. :)

  3. Well said, and I understand what you mean. I feel somewhat similar. I still take photos sometimes, but I try to worry less about the outcome/quality and more about remembering the occasion or for record keeping.

  4. Meggs,
    I'm very relieved that at least one other person in the world feels this way!
    I think part of the problem is knowing that even if one sacrifices 'the moment' to take a photo, it's never going to hold a candle to the myriad images posted daily by the genuine photography enthusiasts.

    I like your idea of a camera-into-mothballs month. Why not use old photos, net photos and sketches to illustrate your blog, since it's your experience of nature that you want to change, not your blog? Perhaps the challenge should be that whenever you see something that gives you an 'I wish I had my camera' moment, you WRITE about why it was special and how it made you feel.
    Thanks again for providing reassurance, and good luck with whatever challenge you choose.

  5. Joan,
    I'm profoundly grateful that most people don't feel the way I do about photography, or I (and everyone else) wouldn't be able to experience all those breathtaking nature photos.
    I think you do a fantastic job sharing the splendour of South Africa with others, especially in highlighting the beauty of bugs and tiny flowers that most people simply overlook.
    Please keep it up and don't let my self-centered attitude rub off on you!

  6. Henry,
    I think this is sensible approach; the best of both worlds.

  7. Hi Lynda, I found your site through the the Nature Blog Network and have thoroughly enjoyed browsing through your posts. There is so much I can relate to having lived near Hoedspruit, way back in the dark ages and having grown up on a bushveld farm.
    I understand what you say about your camera. I mostly snap away at things that grab my fancy, but there are other times where I just enjoy the moment.
    If you do not mind I would like to add you to my blog roll - I am busy doing a revamp at the moment, but only as the mood takes me.

  8. Max-e,
    I'm glad you've enjoyed the posts and hope it hasn't made you too nostalgic. The bushveld really is a fantastic environment.
    I'd be delighted if you added me to the blog roll on your excellent blog.

  9. Although I'm not much of a photographer, very often my old photos remind me of experiences I would otherwise forget. They bring it all back for me, so I treasure them.

  10. John,
    Yes, photos are excellent for jogging the memory.

  11. I totally agree with you about photos. I personally find that I'm so intent on taking good photos in great experiences that I neglect to truly enjoy the moment, and this is never a good thing! I think good and engaging description can truly prevail!


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