Remember that one time you went somewhere super awesome, but when you think about the trip you’re frustrated because you took too many pictures? Nope? Yeah, that’s never happened to me either, on a personal trip at least.
Sure, as a ski photographer I’ve had plenty of trips where I look back at my shots of friends skiing blower pow and all I remember is how my camera pack whacked me in the crotch when I tried to turn, and how wet my expensive gear got, and how hard it was to move through all that deep snow to get to the right spot to get the shot, but that sort of regret is an inherent part of the gig.
But have you ever gone on a hike, a bike ride, a run, a ski tour with your friends and come home regretting that summit shot, that snap of all the bikes in the parking lot, that photo of that really cool boulder beside the trail that your buddy scrambled up? I haven’t, and I bet you haven’t either.
But I know I’ve gone on plenty of trips where I didn’t take any photos and regretted it. Whether it was because my camera ran out of batteries, my phone was buried in my pack or I was simply bonking too hard to slow down and take a photo, I have had countless days in the mountains that went fully undocumented. And that’s fine — I don’t need a photo of every trail I’ve ever run or ridden, every slope I’ve skied, and it’s not like I judge the value of an outdoor experience by how rad the pictures make us look — but I regret not taking any photos on a lot of those days.
Too often we think of a picture as a way to claim what we did, to show others how rad we are, how hot oursignificant other is, how great of a weekend we experienced. And as someone who makes a decent part of his living making things look more rad, hotter and greater than they really were, I agree, photos are a good vehicle for that.
But to value every photo by how many likes it’s going to snag on Instagram and how many jealous comments it will prompt is to shortchange the shot, the adventure and yourself. If you take pictures because you have an Instagram instead of having an Instagram to post those pictures on, you’re doing it wrong.
On the flip side of all that, adventures aren’t just about what happens in the moment. The aspects of planning that come before and reflection that comes after add immensely to the overall value of the experience. The weeks of map-peering and trail-Googling, the gathering of beta and checking weather reports and plow statuses and previous trip reports are all an important part of the experience, just like the reenactment of key moments over beers days, weeks or even years after the event.
Sure, there are moments on every trip that are too precious to be ruined with a camera, there are mountain ranges that are better to see and remember than to try to capture, but does that apply to parking lots, too? What about trail signs deep in the rainy woods, long before the final peak comes into sight? Just because you pull your camera out doesn’t mean you have to try to shoot the next National Geographic cover. No, sometimes it can just mean you’re trying to capture a quick memento, like a shell snatched on a beach vacation. The fact that it’s a common mussel doesn’t change what it represents. In fact, that’s sort of the point. And with the advent of phone cameras, there is no real excuse to come home without some sort of record. Even if you leave the entire nail-biting ascent undocumented, that shot of your haggard partner waving an ice axe outside a McDonald’s drive-thru will still bring back the memories and emotions from that trip years later.
So stop leaving your camera in the bag during those mediocre moments, the ones that surround the mountaintop ones. They’re just as worth documenting, and take less away from the overall experience. Keep taking the blurry shots, the out-of-focus ones, the ones when the light is bad, when your subject is making a gross face and the clouds are obscuring the summit. They’ll carry their stories across the ages, and give you more room to exaggerate, too.