“Look over there,” the tourist blurted as she zealously scurried over to a pile of stacked sake barrels outside of Tokyo’s famous Meiji shrine. Her companion waited as the woman aimed her camera and quickly mashed a few photographs. Then and there, she looked at the photographs she had just taken. A few minutes later I noticed the same woman inside the temple walking aimlessly with her camera to her face. Click. Click. Click.
I felt the same way the first time I strolled through the temple complex. In fact, I acted similarly the first time I saw the glitz of Ginza, the ten foot snow drifts in Hokkaido and the full bloom of the sakura. I understood her compulsion to photograph everything. The sights of Japan are seductive, luring even the most disciplined photographer away from a needed balance between actual experience and the futile attempts to capture experience.
We become snap happy in hopes of documenting every aspect of our time in Japan.
As a society, we have an addiction to visuals. Most of us diligently document our own story, constantly taking selfies and snapping shots of beautiful food as if we were going to assemble a cookbook of others’ recipes. I would wager that most of us take several photos a day. But when we are in an environment that is out of the ordinary, our zest to press a shutter explodes: the food, the neon, the temples, the blossoms, the flowers, the fish. We become snap happy in hopes of documenting every aspect of our time in Japan.
We can all agree that the photographic possibilities in Japan are endless. Whether you are in Tokyo, Kyoto or Sapporo the island nation begs to be photographed. Yet, to actually experience Japan, we must find balance and resist our compulsion to photograph everything. We have to remember that our minds are the best camera on the market.
When I realize that I am becoming absorbed into my viewfinder, I reflect on three simple truths.
Limited Timeframe – I won’t be in Japan forever. Whether five days or five years, my time to experience Japan is finite and I would much rather create a memory instead of a photograph.
Reality – There is a large difference between reality and the visuals we produce and share on Instagram. With so many post-processing tools available, we can easily distort a pure experience with filters.
The Moment – Some of my fondest memories happened in a flash. I acknowledge that when I have my camera glued to my face, I miss many moments that could have been treasured memories. Again, the mind is wonderful camera that needs to be used much more frequently.
Admit it. Most of the photos we take are garbage. This is true even for professional photographers. So, why not forgo some of those shots with your camera and try making mental images.
Before you take a photo, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it so that you can read the Facebook comment, “Yum! Sushi, so jealous.” Is it because you actually need a photograph to help you remember how many weird choices there were in the Japanese vending machines? Asking yourself this one word question will force you to be in the moment and not stuck behind a screen.
Your assignment simple: start taking some mental photographs. Compose your scene with your eyes instead of your camera. Think deeply about why you are enamoured with the scene. Click the mental shutter.
Remember that photographs should trigger memories of your time in Japan. The photos, themselves, are not the memory. For this to be your reality, find that needed balance.
If you do plan on spending time looking through the viewfinder, stay tuned for more practical advice that you can immediately use in Japan or on your next adventure.