How to NOT take a photo

A very short guide to living and travelling more mindful.

Can you recall the last time you saw something that made you smile or laugh or something that made you just go “wow!”?

It could be a beautiful temple in Thailand, some talented dancers on a plaza in Cuba or the most stunning sunset on the beach of Bali. Now try to remember what happened just after that “wow”. Did your hand by any chance automatically go for your phone in your pocket or camera in your bag?

During the last decade we’ve been completely hard-wired to capture anything that gives us ANY kind of feeling on camera — to show our friends and family. It has become a reflex for many of us, as natural as blinking or breathing. Whenever we see something we think is beautiful, funny or weird, we must save it to share with our friends at home later.

The problem is our brains are not able to multi-task enough to allow us to both take the picture or film AND actually live in the moment. Suddenly, you are experiencing that beautiful moment in the same way as your friends will do it when they see the picture on your Instagram. In 2D and with one single sense.

You’ve probably tried to explain to someone else how totally awesome an experience was, maybe the feeling of trekking to the top of a snow-covered mountain and looking down on the world. You are trying to find the perfect picture that will give the same feeling but none of them makes it fair and you usually end up saying “well, you had to be there.”.

If the first thing you do when seeing something amazing is to look at it through your camera, you are not there in the first place!

You don’t have to share every single thing with your family and friends by showing it. For thousands of years — since we were able to come up with something more vocal than a series of grunts — people have shared amazing stories just by telling them. They paint the different colors of blue and white that are stretching for an eternity, the pounding heart-beats, the smell of sweat and the complete silence by using only words. And the only reason they were able to do that was because they actually lived that moment with all of their senses.

Next time you encounter something truly breath-taking, stop yourself from grabbing the closest image-capturing-machine. Instead go through all of your senses — one by one.

Look at what is in front of you. Notice the colors, the people, the big and small details.

Listen to what is going on around you. Notice the sound of birds and other animals, the breaths of people and the wind or water.

Take a deep breath through your nose and try to sort out what kind of smells and odors you can find. If you happen to be somewhere like China-town or a morning-market — boy, do you have a few smells to identify!

Now crouch down and put your fingers on the ground. Pick up a rock or maybe something from the closest food stand and feel the texture. Dip your hand in the water and feel the temperature.

Well, I’m not gonna tell you to put something in your mouth and taste it — I don’t want to end up with a bunch of lawsuits for trying to poison you — but I guess you get my point.

Did it feel any different? Did it feel like you lived this moment a little more? It probably did.

Most of you have five senses. Make sure to use all of them. Live now, share later.

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Jens is a travel photographer/writer also blogging at The Zen Photographer . He is the co-founder of the Swedish book publishing house, New Heroes & Pioneers.