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The Eye and The Lens: The Balance of Being Present and Capturing the Moment

Is capturing the moment on a phone more worthwhile than resting in the moment – taking it in with our own two eyes?

By: Aaron Rickel Jones + Save to a List

I’m a storyteller. I love sharing experiences with others. Fortunately, we live in a time where we are never without a camera. Whether we’re professional photographers earning a living or hobbyists posting to Instagram, photos are a powerful medium for sharing our individual points of view (or just taking that same Tunnel View picture of Yosemite Valley that everyone else takes because it will rack up the likes on Instagram…I don’t claim to be an artist.)

Whenever I travel I’m always caught up in this tension between living a moment as it happens and capturing a moment to share later. Pictures are incredible tools for remembering what we see but come at the cost of remembering other details about the experience. What we hear. What we smell. What we feel.

Early last year, I noticed I was becoming a person who was more focused on how I was going to share an experience than on the beautiful simplicity of the experience itself. I didn't like that. I started asking why. Why do I want to capture this moment? Is it to help me remember? Is it to capture details I’m scared I’ll forget? Is it to validate the experience for myself or my friends? Is it to get more likes and followers on social media? Is capturing the moment on a phone more worthwhile than resting in the moment – taking it in with my own two eyes?

Every person is different. Every situation is different. What is important to me may not be important to you. Nevertheless, here are a few habits I started practicing that help me tiptoe the line between the eye and the lens.

  • I take it in with my senses before I take out a camera. I stare. I close my eyes and listen. Smell. Feel. A photo will never be able to capture these senses, and yet they are so visceral and important for memories. Sometimes this takes a minute, sometimes it takes ten. Other times, the moment takes over and becomes more important than the photo altogether.

  • I limit my gear. This summer I went on a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and decided I would only document it on my phone. I didn’t have the choice of which lens would best capture the scene or whether I should get a timelapse of the sunrise. This limiting factor let me stay present in the trip and I still came away with a sweet video (link below).

  • I capture experiences through more than just a camera. Writing always seems like the most natural way to record the outdoors. A picture is worth a thousand words, but when those words are about the way the the glacier-fed lake stole the breath from my lungs and commanded every muscle in my body to sting and tense up…a picture can’t begin to touch those feelings.

By no means am I going to stop taking photos and videos. They are immensely powerful tools for inspiring others and sharing stories and I love the process of finding and capturing them. This entire community is based on people sharing their experiences with one another! However, I’m discovering that, as with everything in life, there is a balance.

The next time you watch the sunset at the beach, stop a moment before whipping out your phone. Listen to the waves. Feel the cooling sand under your feet. Smell the crisp salt air and breathe deeply. I’ll bet that moment sticks with you longer than another #sunset post on your Instagram.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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