When not to photograph

David Whitley debates whether sometimes we should put the camera down and just enjoy the moment without playing photographer

In any major tourist destination, you’ll end up running what I call the photography gauntlet. I’d hate to think how much time the human race has wasted waiting for other people to take pictures. The etiquette of such situations is a bit of a grey area. When someone is standing at one side of the path, with the photographer at the other, everybody has to stop and stand around like a plum until the snapshot session is finished.

But when does it become OK to think: “Sod this,” and just stride across, probably getting your unwanted head into the photo? Who should be patient – is it the people trying to get the picture or everyone else?

At times, I think we can be too obsessive about taking pictures. Yes, it’s nice to have them as mementos a few years down the line, but nobody ever says their favourite part of the trip was taking photos. Show me someone who says taking loads of photos of the Sydney Opera House was their favourite part of a trip to Australia and I’ll show you a big, fat liar.

Sometimes the desire to capture the moment can prevent us from actually enjoying it. This is particularly true of safaris or whale-watching tours. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at everything through a viewfinder. The constant urge to get the right shot stops you watching – getting the elephant into shot becomes more important than watching what it’s doing. Taking photos becomes a task, the whole enterprise measured as a success or failure by how good the resulting pictures are. Put the camera down, and it’s a relief not to have to measure the success of the outing. You can just enjoy it as an observer, watching the nuances and interactions, without the need to obsessively capture scenes.

Slavery to the camera becomes worst on a group tour. The more people in the group, the longer you have to wait while everyone takes a picture of everything. It gets even worse if you’ve got the sort of simpletons in the group who are so insistent that everyone has to be bezzie mates forever that every stop has to be marked by a group photo.

Group photos are awful. No-one really wants to be in them, and the rictus grins have to be maintained for seemingly hours as exactly the same photo is taken with twenty cameras. This is bad enough once, but when it’s done at every stop you just want to run away and hide behind a tree.

There’s nothing wrong with photography as a hobby, and I understand that some people get great pleasure from taking photos. But the rest of us who are doing it because we feel we ought to? Perhaps it’s time to think before we snap.