A Season for All Things: When to Turn Off Your Camera

Even though it is not yet even close to spring here in Alberta, we’ve been lulled into hoping that spring is just around the corner by recent warm, dry temperatures.  Here is an image made last year in April west of Cochrane; I suppose we’ll just have to wait a little longer to photograph the fuzzy heads of crocus, but I was a little nostalgic so I decided to post an image ‘out of season’.

Crocus in dry, grassy field

Speaking of ‘seasons’, I was reminded not too long ago of that 1960s song made famous by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which put to music scripture from the Bible:  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  What got me humming a tune with roots dating back to King Solomon’s time?  Well, a music concert, actually.  In January, Darwin and I saw Jim Cuddy and his band play at the Eric Harvie Theatre in Banff.  It was a terrific show with Cuddy in fine form rockin’ the packed (and cramped) hall.

The only aggravating part to the event was the number of people who had their smartphones out either taking pictures or recording parts of the concert.  I’m probably an old curmudgeon (and one of the last remaining dinosaurs without a cell phone let alone a smartphone–yes, it’s true!), but the practice struck me as distracting and rude.  I’m going to outline three reasons why I think we should realize when to put the cameras and phones away, and I want to hear from the oopoomoo community on what you guys think about all this.

It Interferes with the Performers’ Performance

At the beginning of the show, we were asked to turn off our phones and that recording the performance was not allowed.  People must not speak English very well as this request was promptly ignored as soon as Cuddy smiled his way onstage.  And it’s not just the ‘young people’ who are to blame!  Cuddy attracts a primarily middle-aged crowd judging by the greying pates and carefully re-constructed coiffures of those seated around me.  So none of this Generation X vs. Generation Y stuff.  It was Uncle Bill in urban jacket and cowboy boots who was constantly tapping on his damn digital device this time.  It wouldn’t be so bad for the performers if people would turn the flash off on their cameras and phones.  Alas, it appears that this is very difficult thing to figure out how to do.  Once the first flash blasts the backs of the heads of the row immediately in front, and the owner abashedly and hurriedly squirrels the device back into pocket or purse, it is almost as if a certain mentality grows…if she can do it, why not me!  Poor Jim; hopefully he was blinded by the stage lights and not put off too much by the flash of phones and cameras winking in the dark.

In Interferes with Your Neighbours’ Enjoyment

That would be me, the grumpy lady flashing nasty, withering looks to the back of your head.  See, before devices had such nice, bright LCDs (the better with which to light up a concert hall, my dear!), the occasional flash probably wasn’t such a big deal for the audience’s enjoyment of a concert.  But when you are trying to watch a live performance over a sea of floating glaring, white screens, well, it’s hard to concentrate, is all.  All that shuffling and dithering with the devices is quite distracting.  If you are guilty of trying to photograph or record anything except your child’s first kindergarten concert, then yes, I am here to tell you that the bright light of your phone lights up not only your face and lap but shoots white rays into my eyeballs as well.  Put it away.

It Interferes with Your Enjoyment

 Don’t believe me?  Some say that the human mind (contrary to what we all secretly believe) is only capable of giving real attention to one thing at a time.  Maybe two, if you are a mother.  Hence Alberta’s Distracted Driving Law.  We just don’t multi-task very well.  So, when you are busily trying to stuff a 3-D, live performance into your three-inch monitor “for later”, you are obviously not much in the present moment enjoying the very thing you paid good money to come see — Jim Cuddy, live in Banff.  And that’s a shame.  I have my theories on why we feel compelled to do this, from a growing inability to take in the world in bytes longer than a tv commercial to our strong desire to ‘contain’ and share an experience even if by attempting to do so we ruin our ability to fully take in the actual experience itself.

One More Thing

Now, I don’t want to come across as a Luddite incapable of understanding and appreciating the wonders of modern technology, and I also am not driving at the tired debate of what is a polite vs. impolite use of digital devices in society (It’d better be an emergency when you answer your cell phone during dinner with me, though!).  So I’m going to situate this within a larger context and one that I see as a teacher of the art of photography.  A good photographer makes images; a great photographer knows when NOT to make an image.  We all need time to replenish our creative batteries.  Shooters who are constantly photographing experience burnout just as overworked doctors, teachers or any person stressed with the task of repeatedly trying to do something well.  And that time is, essentially, ‘downtime’.  It is time spent reading a great book, playing with your kids or engaging in an actual conversation.  It is time spent listening to a great Canadian musician play live in concert.  So my final reason why there is a season to taking pictures, and a time to put the device away, is that — ironically, it’s going to make you a better person.

Okay, oopoomoo community, what do you think!

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!


  1. Lisa
    February 9, 2012


  2. Mike Katona
    February 9, 2012

    It is very evident to me that there is a general feeling amongst a majority of the population that, “the rules don’t apply to me”.
    How very sad. People use to be considerate of other people.

  3. Marty
    February 9, 2012

    I’m with you, Sam. Sit back and enjoy the performance and forget about the pictures/movies. If you want a souvenir, buy the DVD or the CD. But people these days just want to be obnoxious at the expense of others.

  4. Ron Paris
    February 9, 2012

    I think these points are excellent. Having said that, I sure am not going to hold my breath waiting for things to change. I think Mike is on to it with his post. This is not X vs Y, this is about people who could care less about others and those types will always be present. It is just that now the tools they use have a better chance of making things less enjoyable for the rest of us.

  5. Samantha
    February 9, 2012

    Interesting points, Mike and Ron. I always thought people just didn’t know, but maybe it is just selfishness.

  6. Gordon Dalgetty
    February 9, 2012

    Sam I agree with you truly………..as I am on bed rest after my back surgery a month ago I am not even allowed to pick up my camera, so I read a lot and watch TV. Without my camera in hand, at times I feel naked (don’t put that thought in your mind). Now I really treasure the pictures I did take and edit each picture for future reference. Now I am truly looking forward to the time and place where I take the treasured picture I missed.


  7. Julie
    February 9, 2012

    Well I thought I was the only person in the world who felt like this.!!! Recently went on a trip with girlfriends and was amazed that they could not keep away from phones, ipads etc even though this was meant to be a ‘get away from it all’ kind of trip. When I mentioned it, they looked at me like I had landed from Mars. Don’t get me wrong I lovvvveeee my techie things but there’s a time and a place. Just my opinon. 🙂

  8. Rick
    February 9, 2012

    Well I guess I`m guilty as charged – but with an explanation of course. For me its very difficult to go to an event and not have some digital keepsake to take home. BUT .. I always shoot with a small dslr, and since I`m very old (school) I use the viewfinder, leaving the LCD screen turned off. Out of respect for the performer and those around me I also deactivate the flash as there is often more than enough stage lighting to take the shot. Although perhaps perfect, I think this is a reasonable compromise, but I do understand the frustration you feel with respect to cell phone photography.

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      I can understand the need for a memento; it is, after all, what we often do by taking a quick snapshot. Thanks for weighing in and showing how it can be done!

  9. Hendrik
    February 9, 2012

    In the end it all comes down to respect for other people and I’m with Mike on this. As long as you don’t bother others, they couldn’t care less about bothering you. And especially within the photography community you find people that don’t care about other photographers or non-photographers at all. Just go to a sight in Banff like Bow Falls at any season and within a few minutes you will be able to see a photographer either mentioning really loud to company how annoying all the other people are or directly telling people to move away, as they are in the frame and he can’t get his or her shot.

    Instead of waiting for an opportunity to get the shot without people (which sometimes might require getting up really early or simply moving a bit to the left or right), they come and expect everybody else to move. And if you are like me and enjoy confronting ignorant people, you then take your camera and tell them to move their tripod or get over to a certain direction because they are in your frame. Because that’s the way to do it, right? That’s the way you saw him or her telling others to move. But then you’ll get whole speech of being rude or a simple “Sorry, I was here first, come back later when I’m done”.

    But even if you are out shooting alone in remote areas, putting the camera aside can be really great. On a recent photo tour I filled a 16GB card shooting grizzly bears. The sun was already setting, I had to go higher than ISO1600 which I usually never do, so instead of changing the card and shoot hundreds of images more, I switched off the camera, put it in my bag and just watched a sow with cubs play on the shore for over 30 minutes until it was to dark to photograph anyway.

    Even though the images I brought home were great, it was great to take in the whole show without watching it through the long lens, but to get the whole image without looking through the viewfinder.
    Not concentrating on technical issues, instead just watching, listening, smelling, using all senses there are to take in what is happening. For me that is part of photography as well.

  10. Kim
    February 9, 2012

    I completely agree! We are being conditioned to think we NEED electronics at all times. We completely forget to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and forget that the person next to you may want to do just that (without you bothering them)! It also show just how much or how little you really value the person you are with if you are answering your phone during dinner. I was raised to look someone in the eye when you are spoken too and you can’t do that with your phone plastered to your face.

  11. Richard Douglas
    February 10, 2012

    Hi Sam, Interesting topic. A cousin of mine told me recently that she has noticed that people don’t seem to know how to enjoy the moment anymore. They experience the events later when they review their tweets, Facebook messages, recordings etc. However, when you talk to them about things that happened during their dinner, show etc. they don’t remember it because they were too focused on the external devices.

    I have noticed that some of the comments refer to people being selfish. Another possibility is some of these people aren’t truly selfish; they are self-absorbed so they don’t notice the side-effects of their actions. e.g. some people will step onto an escalator and block the way, but in some cases when you ask them to let you pass, they apologize for blocking the way. I think people have forgotten that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    I have a question for Rick and any others that take pictures or videos at events where you are asked not to, what do you do with the pictures or videos you take? Do you buy a souvenir to help support the artist? I am assuming you are all photographers with the next question. If you were doing a showing of your images at a gallery for example, would it upset you if I came in and took pictures or recorded a high-definition video of your images. If it doesn’t bother you, would it matter if I then printed the image I liked and hung it on my wall. In this scenario, I never try to sell the image or pass it off as my own, I just found it cheaper to print my own instead of buying your image. FYI, I am not advocating one way or another because everyone is free to make their own choices. I am just curious.

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      A thoughtful post, Richard. I think you’re right that a lot of people just don’t think about the impact of ubiquitous device surfing. On the other hand, is that indicative of a general change in social protocol (i.e. how considerate we are taught to be of others)?

  12. Heather Simonds
    February 10, 2012

    I have seen the same in art galleries, museums, school concerts, anywhere there is a performance or display. People have lined up, prepaid a huge sum to go, planned their life around the event, dressed their children in their best. But they forget to enjoy the moment for what it is, a moment to be savoured not recorded. I doubt most of those images are ever looked at.
    Live. Right. Now.

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      Your slogan is definitely words to live by!

  13. Jim Dobie
    February 10, 2012

    Two things come to mind; the first is sitting behind a guy at last summers U2 concert in Edmonton who spent the whole night video recording the concert on his iPhone and uploading the clips to Facebook and then attending a Mozart concert in Vienna, Austria which was a very tourist oriented event where the performers and ushers dressed in period costumes. Everything is for show and attendees are encourage to take photos. We were at the back of the auditorium and had to look through a forest of little blue screens being held up as folks fired away. I had my point and shoot camera with me and I did take a picture but not of the performance but rather of the sea of iPhones and other devices blocking the field of view.

    Both concerts were made farsical by this bizarre behaviour; and sadly that is mostly what I remember about both of these events.

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      That’s also a new facet…what if you are encouraged to take pictures? But then, that should be the emotional summit of the event, like getting your picture taken with Snow White at Disneyworld. In that case, it’s probably satisfactory, but when the point of the event is the enjoyment of something else, not obtaining a memento, then it just seems to get in the way.

      And really, stealing a little shot one time–I think people have patience for that. But recording huge chunks and uploading in real time? How engaged can you be in the performance? Why are you there?

  14. mike kap
    February 10, 2012

    Totally agree with you Sam. Met two hikers at the top of Burstall Pass in K country last summer with their i-phones out walking around trying to get coverage-not sure why, they were not hurt or needing assistance. Felt like telling them to sit the h— down and look at the beautiful view they had just climbed up to see.

  15. Judy Windsor
    February 10, 2012

    We went to Jim Cuddy’s concert in Victoria B.C. I was pleasently surprised to see that the audience did in fact put their cell phones away. I know there were alot of people with cell phones, because they came out at intermission. I commented that it was interesting that people can’t put their phones away for a couple hours, what did they do before cell phones? Well, at least I was able to enjoy the concert. I would have been peeved otherwise.

  16. Craig
    February 10, 2012

    I agree with all of the comments posted above. Society today has indeed taken a “I don’t give a damn” attitude. It has become very evident in not only the electronics world, but driving, walking and just about everything else. It is like get out of my way or I will run you down, whether I am in the wrong or not.

    I have to carry one of those “smart” phones due to the job I am in and I am also on 24 hour call pretty much 365 days a year. So yes there are times, no matter where I am that I have to use it. But I typically move away from a scene or event and try never to bother anyone. If I am in a restaurant I go outside. I always keep the ringer off and just let the phone vibrate.

    A few weeks ago my wife and I were out with a group of friends to a bar where a great band was playing. Everyone of our friends were ignoring the band and sat hunched over their phones, texting and doing whatever. We were the only ones in our group who were actually enjoying the music. It is really sad in a way.

    As Heather said “Live. Right. Now.

    Great post Sam!

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      The phones are bad, but how we use them can cause poor results; good to see your high level of ‘phone etiquette’, Craig!

    • Samantha
      February 10, 2012

      oops, I mean ‘not bad’. An innocent slip, I swear!

  17. Len
    February 10, 2012

    Great post and lots of good comments regarding this time we are living. Personally we are fortunate to live where our cell phone coverage is marginal, so our “pay as you go” phone is only used to call our home land line when we want to let someone know we are heading home.
    Many years ago now, when cell phones became small and pocketable, my boss at the time wanted his staff to carry a cellphone at all times so that he could contact us at any time he wished. We all said NO, much to his surprise and chagrin. We all kept our jobs anyway. That may not go down well today!
    Seeing so many people glued to their mini-screens all the time makes me wonder if they are aware of the real world around them.

  18. Robin
    February 10, 2012

    Sam, I’m with you, all the way! BC also has a law against distracted driving. You wouldn’t think so, with the number of people who are ignoring it! Come on people, get with the program! Is it really necessary to be connected 24/7.

  19. Dee Cresswell
    February 10, 2012

    I find it quite distressing that people walk around with their faces in their smartphones all day. The world is out here, not in there. I love catching a beautiful sunset or seeing a funny cloud in the sky, but things like that seem to go unnoticed by so many. I have also put the camera down to enjoy watching bears and to marvel at the northern lights. I admit to trying to take a photo at a concert once, how pointless was that! And then just got on with enjoying the show. The girl in front of me thought it was worth it to keep trying, on and off for two hours! Seriously??!! Anyway, I’m glad to see there are still people that appreciate living life in reality. I was starting to feel a bit lonely out here in the real world.

  20. Ken
    February 14, 2012

    Bang on Sam. It drives me nuts to see everyone with their noses in their phones, all day, every day. I don’t get it. Yes I’m an older f@rt at 55, but my wife is the same age and she is on her iPod or Smart phone all the time too. Who knows if people realize how rude they are, but let’s face it, it isn’t going to change soon. It get’s worse every day. I think it’s a sad that technology has transformed our society into this.
    My first grandchild was born 4 years ago (I now have 3), and of course I took lots of pictures in the beginning when visiting. After a couple of years, I realized I was spending more time looking at them through a viewfinder than normally. I still take pictures of them, but most of the time I put my camera away and enjoy them without a camera between us. Now they act normal rather than trying to put on a show for the camera. We have lots of fun together. They are so precious and I don’t want to miss anything when I’m with them. This may sound like a funny comment from a hobby photographer, but I completely agree with Heather’s: “Live. Right. Now.” Very appropriate.

  21. Darwin Wiggett
    February 15, 2012

    Here is an interview George Clooney on the same topic (cell phone cameras). Thanks to Bob Braun for the link:


    • Chris Smith
      February 24, 2012

      I think that George Clooney’s comments on photographers at the end of the article are particularly profound and true…