The Plight Of The Traveling Amateur Photographer

Hobbiest photographers get a lot of shit from other travelers, so this post is my plea to try to subdue the prejudice. 

The Prejudice:
If you are an avid traveler then by now you have heard, and/or taken part in a number of conversations where some iteration of the following is said:

“I was at (insert amazing place here) and it was so spectme gemelos smacular! But there were people there just taking photos the whole time. I might take like one or two photos on my phone for the memory, and that’s it. I mean, they aren’t even noticing where they are. They aren’t even taking the time to live in the moment”.

I’ve seen people reach the high peak of the sun gate at Machu Picchu take out a novel and start reading. To me, that seems a lot more like escaping than taking in the surroundings, but nobody gives them any shit because they are minding their own business, enjoying the moment and surroundings in the way they choose to. So I challenge you to answer why snapping photos should be treated differently?

The truth is, we are just as annoyed by the selfie stickers as the rest of you. Maybe even more so, because they’re making it harder for those that want to take a serious beautiful photo. It’s the worst having to crop my photo from on top of a glacier in order to cut out someone’s selfie stick that they refused to put down for even 30 seconds.

We too tend to judge them for caring more about showing people where they’ve been through their social media, than about actually being there. But as I write this, I realize that they too are simply enjoying the moment and surroundings in the way that they choose to.

And on my end of the photo taking spectrum, I find that people who enjoy the art of taking photos are typically very respectful.  We wait for the selfie crowd to pass and linger in places longer and silently to get what we want out of where we are.

So here it is:
I argue that you are wrong when you think we aren’t living in the moment and taking in our surroundings. How could you possibly know that?

You don’t know that I bawled like a baby when I reached the top of an active volcano at 5600 m above sea level. You don’t know that I was the only girl in my group of 6 in the Bolivian Pampas that touched an alligator and didn’t scream at the sight of spiders.   You don’t know that my heart swelled, and I teared up as I waved goodbye to Machu Picchu.  Or again as I watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat. You don’t know that I had fully immersive, even emotional experiences, all while snapping photos.

Here is a little insight into what the traveling hobby photographer experiences:
First of all, taking photos is something we enjoy. We like the process of looking for the perfect angle, playing with the natural lighting, and framing a shot. It’s fun! Rather than take away from the moment, it often adds to it.

Sometimes I actually believe that through my camera I am taking in my surroundings even more than the people around me.  Or if I don’t bring my camera along, I sometimes think I’ve missed something.

There’s 2 reasons why: 

1) My camera doubles over as a binoculars.  I can use my camera to focus in on the fine hairs of a monkey, or the intricate details carved into the walls of ancient temples.  And that’s something I really do.  I focus on details.

As a creative person, I find inspiration in the details that many people miss over if they only see the big picture.  Many of my photos that nobody ever sees are of the beautiful flor de lis patterns above doorways, or the interesting shapes of leaves in a forest.  These are points of reference for me to inspire future projects, be it in drawings or jewelry.  I take so many pictures BECAUSE I am soaking in all of these incredible little details that make a place magical.

2) Broad landscape photos are one thing.  I can spend a few minutes taking a few beautiful shots and then put down the camera.  But I find myself lost in my camera when I am exploring ancient ruins and interesting architecture.  Here is what I am often thinking of when I am taking photos in a site like Angkor Wat:

“Wow.  That beautiful leafy pattern carved into the highest point of the buttress of that wall… How is everyone not admiring that?  Nothing built today has that detail and thought. A long time ago, someone carved that little piece by hand.  It took them a long time.  They were an artisan.  They didn’t get credit for it, and nobody will ever know their name.  Their work was and continues to be beautiful and makes up a small part of something great.  Maybe they were paid fairly for their work.  Maybe not.  Maybe they did it because that person felt so strongly towards that king, or that deity.  They certainly didn’t know that a thousand years later a girl from the other side of the world would be standing here admiring it and wondering about their life.  I sure hope I can snap a decent photo that does a small bit of justice to their beautiful work.”

And then I zoom out.  And that’s always the most humbling moment.  Then I turn away from that beautiful little crevice that most people walk right past, and12771487_10100588138976925_1814332660770393751_o realize that I am surrounded by thousands of little crevices that make this place stunning.  And then I think of how many people it must have taken to create this masterpiece.  People working together to bring more beauty to the world.  And yes, I get all that from zooming in and out with my camera lens.

Sometimes the artist isn’t human.  Sometimes it’s Pachamama leaving incredible lines of color in the desert mountains of Argentina or agressive thorns winding their way around a tree in the jungle.  But the idea for me is the same.  Through my camera my appreciation for the details intensify.  In nature it can feel like a spiritual connection to the earth when I zoom out and see how those intricate linear details create a leaf, which creates a tree, which creates a forest…

Later I go home and review my photos and pick out my favorites.  And sometimes I discover even more details that I hadn’t had the time to examine, or maybe I was too in awe of another part to realize…  Which only increases my appreciation and gratitude for the specific place, and travel in general.

So there you have it.
I’m by no means trying to make myself out to be a great photographer or even a great artist.  I just want to be a voice for those traveling photographers who are thoroughly enjoying themselves, wherever they are.  There is 0% shame in it.  So for all you travelers out there that are doing it “the right way”, just remember that we are too 🙂

3 thoughts on “The Plight Of The Traveling Amateur Photographer

  1. Rachel,

    You have in a very beautiful way captured the essence of what you do and continue to do in your travels. I’m grateful that you were able to share this insight into your soul with others.


  2. You have perfectly summed up my entire thought about travelling and (amateur) photography. I look at pictures I took 2 years ago and I am automatically drawn into that moment. I also don’t think anyone should have to dictate how you choose to enjoy a moment or a place. Like you said, we actually love taking pictures while appreciating the beauty of where we’re in. They don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. I agree that sometimes you have to put the camera or selfie stick down though… at the end of the day, it’s about finding the perfect balance…

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