Why I stopped snapping pics

by Kris Phillips

When I first met my husband, part of what drew me in was his comfort in front of the camera. His MySpace (I’m really dating myself here) was full of, not so much selfies, but self portraits. Initially, I assumed he was an aspiring model and since I was a just-starting-out photographer, surely we’d be a match made in camera heaven! He turned out to be a hobbyist photographer himself, which was even more fun!Adventures in photography

Our early years are well documented; every party we went to, every night out on the town, every hiking trip, and every adventure played out more like an on-location photo shoot. And this was before Instagram was even a thing. We took turns taking photos, creating dynamic poses, setting up the camera with a timer, and seeing who could get the most epic shot.

It’s not hard to get fixated snapping pics. We live in a “pics or it didn’t happen” age. Social media demands evidence. Cameras are no longer expensive or complicated. The digital revolution made taking 50 shots of your dinner super easy. And there are almost as many camera phones in our country as there are people.

IG Feed

Besides, who could resist clicking away every time your dog does that super adorable thing- sleeping.

Life moves so fast, we feel as if making a digital reproduction of every. single. moment is the ONLY way to hold onto them.

But are we actually robbing ourselves of the experiences?

One day on this epic Fall hike through the color-changing Aspens my hubs and I got into an argument. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering. We had essentially gotten into each other’s shot and in classic rom-com fashion, I stood in the middle of a magical forest pouting because “the day was ruined”. So here we were, in this surreal landscape of red & gold, with the leaves trickling down like vibrant, magical fiery snowflakes, and I realized that I’d been so busy setting up  “the shot” I’d completely forgotten to experience “the moment”. Everything we did just felt like we were on one long, extended, on-location photo shoot. Just moving between sets instead of having experiences. Right then and there I decided to stop. Stop being so focused on the little black box in my hand and start paying attention to what was around it.

I put down my camera and started to just breath in the moments; the sunsets, the mountain peaks, the beautiful waterfalls. The joy on my dogs face as he sniffed the crisp air. And the love in my husbands eyes. Eyes that I’d been so worried about getting in focus I’d forgotten how much I loved staring into them. To my surprise I found so much more joy in our adventures when I wasn’t trying to calculate the perfect way to compose the scene.

enjoying natureI had no idea at the time that later research would back up my huff. Professor Maryanne Garry of the University of Waikato suggests that being focused on constantly photographing our lives we are paying more attention to the documentation than the experience. We are giving away our moments. Similar research done by psychologist Linda Henkel backs up these ideas. In her study she sent two teams of students to a museum, one to take photos of what they saw, the other was to rely on their memory. It turned out the brain is good at outsourcing to save it’s own file space. Those who had photographed their adventure remembered less of what they saw because their brain assumed it could rely on the photos. Whereas those who didn’t take pictures remembered their experience in greater detail because they were focused on what was in front of them, not the little black box in their hands. But putting down the camera and taking in the moment your brain is forced to take in and hold onto more details than could ever be captured in 2 dimensions.

Hiking with friends

Right now you’re thinking. But wait, Kris, you’re a photographer, and I’ve seen your social media! No, I didn’t stop shooting all together. I took a break for a few months and when I picked my camera back up again I made sure to do it in moderation. I allow myself a couple shots per outing. And only with my cell phone. My “Big Camera” stays home unless we’re doing a designated photo session. Which I still do a couple times a year.

My mom & step-dad at botanic gardensOrganized family portraits will always have a time & a place in my life. Like this photograph of my Mom & step-dad at the botanic gardens in New Mexico. Big events, epic adventures, and my dogs adorable face as he grows into himself. But I curb myself with a “less is more” approach.

Instead of stopping every 100 feet to document each bend in the trail we’ll take one family shot at the trailhead sign and maybe another for a truly special view. But the rest of the trip is about taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and feels. It’s about experiencing Floki’s joy as his nose wiggles wildly through a new landscape. Feeling the warm sun dry the chilled lake water from our skin on the beach after a morning paddle board.  It’s about the smell of that firepit as we snuggle under a big warm blanket and watch the sun set.

A photo should spark that memory, not be the whole of it.



And I can promise you, if you put down the camera-phone and pick up the ball, your dog will thank you too.

Golden Retriever kissing for the ball

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