A Time to Photograph

Photograph by David McCammon

There is, in my mind, a time to photograph and a time to experience the moment you’re in. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan and Harry’s wedding took place this weekend at Windsor Castle. The post wedding party had an interesting twist.

No cell phones, cameras or recording devices of any kind.

Brilliant really! Talk about making it their own. We over record and document way too many experiences today versus simply taking them in, digesting them live and in person. I highly recommend you try it on for size.

Let me put it a little differently.

The moment we bring the camera up to take a photo we experience the moment very differently from living inside of it.

The experience is changed both for the photographer and the person being photographed. It becomes about being photographed, about taking a picture versus truly seeing, hearing, smelling, touching that passage of time. I know this from experience.

Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do and understand the value of it. BUT there are moments better spent simply living them. Below is an excerpt from my new book Image Power from the chapter titled: A Time to Photograph, A Time to Experience. It describes a moment when I fully recognized the difference between the two.

I had an experience recently while riding my bicycle along The Grand River. The Grand is a beautiful, powerful meandering river that passes right behind our home in Kitchener, Ontario. Its boundaries are filled with an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna.

Before the run off of huge ice flows a couple of years ago there was a huge boulder that rested on the edge of a long bend. I would often ride ahead of Julia, stop and climb up on this beauty to quietly meditate in the morning sun while I waited for her.

This particular morning, as I approached “my boulder” there was a large Blue Heron standing in the middle of the river about 20 meters upstream. Typically, a very shy bird they fish at the side of the river partially obscured by tall grasses. I crept up to the boulder and climbed aboard gratefully not disturbing this magnificent bird with its reptilian character.

As I sat quietly basking in the sun watching this beauty I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight out in front of me a bird hovered madly flapping its wings 20 feet above the water. Suddenly, it dove straight down into the water only to rise out moments later with a fish trapped in its beak. The Kingfisher smartly flew away to feast on its prey.

Still processing the universe was sharing, I once again saw movement off to my right side. Turning my gaze slowly to an island with a large willow about 100 meters away I saw what appeared to be a large bird coming my way. As it escaped the shadows of the tree I saw it was a Bald Eagle. It appeared to be headed right at me!

I sat in awe as I heard its huge wings plow through the air at eye level 20 feet directly in front of me. This creature passed with a confidence and strength that was breathtaking.

The Bald Eagle proceeded directly toward the Heron who took off down the river. The Eagle followed the Heron a long way. Just before disappearing around the next bend the Heron took a long wide circle to the right as the Eagle remained on course and disappeared around the bend.

When I got home I read the Heron is the only bird who will fight and kill a Bald Eagle fatally piercing it with its long beak. They tend to stay away from each other.

I have shared this story a number of times and am invariably asked if I have any photos. No, I don’t. I didn’t have a camera with me. If I had, I still wouldn’t have taken a photo as it would have completely altered the experience. Taking a photograph of anything changes the experience. It becomes about taking a photograph which I generally love to experience. I am not a wildlife photographer and in this case the display these birds honoured me with remains ingrained in my mind to be relished at will. I can still hear the rush of those huge wings as the drove by me…

I’ve been photographing professionally for over 30 years. We had a blast photographing many weddings during the 90’s stopping in 2001. Five hours was the maximum coverage we offered. 99% of the time we didn’t attend the reception.

Today the recording of the event has almost taken on greater importance than the event itself.

Here’s a challenge I’d like to toss out to wedding photographers and their clients. Simplify the coverage of the day. Make the wedding about the day, about the love shared between bride and groom.

My in-laws were married for over 60 years! I was asked to speak at their 50th anniversary so I asked Barb about the day. There were many stories and one photo. The stories were rich, romantic and full of heart. Julia’s and my wedding album has 10 photos I cherish.

What’s enough and what’s too much only you can decide. I’m asking you to consider alternatives, to take a moment and wonder about what is worth photographing and what is better experienced within.

Definitely hire a pro to photograph those special times while defining what is best for you, the experience and the memories.

Bravo Meghan and Harry, bravo.



1 thought on “A Time to Photograph

  1. Carolyn Wilker

    Good points, David, which is the reason my cell phone only makes occasional appearances now when I’m with my grandchildren. I want to focus on spending time with them.

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