Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

River scene, Cambodia
If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ then thirty-five thousand pictures must be worth thirty-five million words! Maybe that explains why I haven’t been writing too many blog posts recently. Let me explain.

After four extended trips since 2008, that have taken me to America and Greece three times, France, twice, and England and Cambodia once each (as well a two week visit to Sydney, and six or seven month-long visits to Melbourne, Australia), I had amassed an enormous number of photographs and videos.

How many? More than 35,000 (4,000 of which are video clips). No, that larger figure is not a typo. Thirty-five thousand! Since my return in August from my last trip to Greece and France, I have spent more hours than I care to think about slowly going through my files and folders culling as many extraneous images as possible. I am now down to around 22,000 files. A few of them are now illustrating this post.

When I mentioned the number of files on my Facebook page, and wrote about the task of sorting through and deleting the doubles and the duds, one of my acquaintances left the following comment: “You can take so many pics you don't see anything.”

Largs Bay sunset, Adelaide
To which I replied, in part: “You are right of course…one of the problems/benefits of modern digital cameras is that they make it easy to take thousands of photographs, unlike the old 'analog' cameras that restricted you to shooting a maximum of 36 photos per roll of film.”

And therein lies the problem―or part of it. Modern digital cameras do in deed make it too easy to take hundreds, and even thousands of photographs. Older cameras, with their restrictive 12, 24, or 36 image rolls of film, forced photographers to be a lot more careful and choosy about the photographs they took, and the way they captured them. Because of these limitations, photographers spent a lot more time setting up and composing ‘the shot’, making sure aperture, f-stops, and ISO settings where just right. Even then, until they had a chance to get their rolls of film developed, often weeks later, there were no guarantees that the final results would be what they wanted.

Thankfully, digital cameras have freed us from many of these issues, providing us with the ability to quickly see if our images are good, and if not, to immediately keep shooting until we are satisfied with the results. Digital cameras also make it easy to shoot dozens of photographs of the same object, all in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Obviously, given this ease of use, it doesn’t take long to accumulate hundreds (or thousands) of photographs, especially during long extended trips.

Stop And Smell The Roses
View from Koskina Castle, Ikaria
But there was something else bothering me about that Facebook comment. Hidden in my friends response is the implied criticism that many modern travellers (including myself), are so busy taking photographs that we don’t stop to truly see and appreciate the things we are trying to capture on film or video. And he is right.

I personally, am well aware of this potential problem, and always try to allow time to just sit and look, to observe and contemplate, and to find space in my travels to be grateful for the opportunities I have had that brought me to a specific location, at that particular period in my life and journey. This is probably the major reason I like to travel for extended periods involving months rather than weeks. It is also the reason I have returned, two, three and even more times to countries and cities I have previously visited.

There are a lot of travellers who are intent on visiting as many countries as they possibly can, simply so they can boast about the number of places they have been to. Getting to know the people and the customs and culture of the countries they visit, is not why these people travel. They are simply collecting stamps in passports, and those ubiquitous, “This is me in…” photographs.

Bastille Monument, Paris
I never have been, nor will I ever be that type of traveller.

Living In ‘The Moment’
In my reply I also wrote: “One of my travel fantasies involves travelling with no camera at all, but I don't know if that is ever going to happen.”

While there have been days during my travels when I have chosen to leave my camera behind at my accommodations, I doubt that I will ever have the confidence in my aging memory banks to not have a camera at all for the duration of a trip. And while I understand the concept of ‘living in the moment’, of trying to focus all my senses on what is going on around me at any particular moment in time, there is also a joy and pleasure in trying to record and capture those moments in a more tangible and permanent form.

We live in an age when literally billions of images have been uploaded to dozens of popular photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, and many others. In the time it has taken you to read this far, several million images will have been uploaded to Facebook alone.

The other factor I did not mention is that I have travelled extensively since rekindling my travel bug in 2008. In fact I even surprised myself when I added up the weeks and months I have ventured overseas.

  • March 11, 2008 - October 5, 2008 [seven months]
  • June 29, 2010 - March 7, 2011 [eight months]
  • July 30, 2012 - October 24, 2012 [three months]
  • April 28, 2014 - August 20, 2014 [four months]
Water Tower, Sydney
This is a total of around 22 months of travel outside Australia. And this does not include approx six month's house sitting in Melbourne over the past six or seven years, or the two weeks I spent in Sydney in 2009. 

All this travel adds up to almost 30 months away from ‘home’ since March 2008. Thirty months ‘on the road’ presents a heck of a lot of opportunities for taking thousands of photographs―and take them I did.

How many photographs are too many? Can you in fact, take too many photographs during your travels? Does the world really need another image of the Eiffel Tower, or the Empire State Building, or other well known landmark?

I’d love to know what readers think about this issue. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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