How we're ruining travelling

BEN GROUNDWATER
Last updated 09:51 31/07/2013
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SAFARI MADNESS: When your first thought is always for the camera.

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I call it "safari madness", this need to document every second of the travel experience by capturing it on film.

If you've ever been on a safari then you'll know where it gets its name. Safari-goers seem obsessed with photos - it isn't real until it's been snapped on full telephoto and transferred to the hard drive.

For some reason bundling around Africa in an open-topped jeep brings this out in people. There's a zebra - snap. There's an eagle - snap. There's a shrub - snap.

I've just been on a safari with a German couple who have probably left Zimbabwe thinking the country comes with a permanent crosshair, the auto-focus guides of their camera lens seared deeper in the mind's eye than any animal or plant or person they saw there.

Everything was carefully documented, snapped and preserved forever.

There we'd be in the forest of Mana Pools, or along the banks of the Zambezi, and the first reaction to any new find was to raise the camera and click. Click, click, click.

Lower the camera, check the results on the screen, confer, nod, and then say to the guide, "OK, we go". And we'd move on.

On one of those days we got out of the jeep and explored on foot, hoping to find a pride of lions, eventually spotting them in a clearing about 50 metres away.

Thirteen lions crouched and glared at us. Fisher, our guide, gripped his rifle, finger near the trigger, ready to take action if things went wrong. It was tense.

The Germans, meanwhile, had their eyes on their camera display, flicking through images, checking results.

"Guys," Fisher hissed. "Please keep your eyes on the animals."

They're an extreme example, the German couple, but there are versions of them touring around every country in the world. I'm one of them.

As a group, we travellers have become obsessed with taking photos when we're away, with recording every moment on film.

It used to be that the Japanese were made fun of for their compulsion to take photos, but the rest of us have caught up.

Digital photography has a lot to answer, its ease and relative cheapness opening up the camera obsession to the wider populace.

You don't have to be an expert anymore, or even an enthusiast, you just need a spare hundred bucks or so and a big memory card.

And there are so many ways to share the results. You don't have to persuade friends to come over to your house for a slide night in order to bore them senseless with your holiday snaps.

All you have to do now is post the pics on Facebook and wait for the likes to pile in. Or upload them to Flickr and have them judged. Or alter them with Instagram and bomb your friends' feeds.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand boasts.

I'm as guilty of this obsession as anyone, although I have the excuse that it's my job.

I not-so-secretly enjoy the Instagram posts, but I'm forced through work to have a DSLR always close at hand when I'm on the road, ready to raise to my face and click whenever anything interesting happens.

What's the problem? Well, it's a bit like spending your whole holiday posting Facebook status updates about what a great time you're having - instead of going out and actually having that great time.

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In the rush to frame and document every important moment, modern-day travellers are missing those moments while their faces are glued to the camera.

Ever been to a concert and had your view blocked by about a thousand raised hands holding iPhones and thought, "Why don't these people just enjoy it now instead of recording it for later?" Then you know what I mean.

Not everyone takes photos to show off, I'm sure. There are plenty who do it for their own enjoyment, to keep a personal record of a good time had. It's the new-age way of keeping a travel diary.

But I've caught myself plenty of times not looking at a monument or landscape as a thing of beauty, but as something that needs to be framed properly in the ideal light.

I'm weighing up the best angle to snap it from instead of just looking at it, taking it in, appreciating it.

Safari madness means your first thought is always for the camera. Once the subject has been captured you can relax and take it in - unless it's a lion, and it's already eaten you.

Do you suffer from safari madness when you travel? Have your tried going camera-free? Post your comments below.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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