By Ethan Maurice | May 18, 2016
I took this photograph last week overlooking Horseshoe Bend. The view was absolutely stunning, but I must admit, I feel like a bit of a fraud flaunting it.
You see, though it may look like I trekked a dozen miles to reach such an epic view or that I was standing alone pondering life's deeper questions along the cliff's edge, that's simply not the case. The image might make me look like quite the explorer or at least a bit more adventurous, but the truth is I was surrounded by hundreds of people simultaneously taking the exact same picture.
The parking lot for Horseshoe Bend is literally right next to the highway. It's a mere 10-minute stroll to the cliff's edge that thousands of people make every day.
Since the advent of social media, we've all developed this desire to capture and share our most epic moments. We share these images to make our lives appear more interesting and to receive validation. Validation is a great feeling, and anyone who uses Facebook, Instagram, or any other form of social media has undeniably felt this urge.
Today, most of us are constantly working to brand ourselves and improve our image among our peers, at least to some degree. If you're not doing this actively, I'd bet that urge is at least seated somewhere deep in the back of your mind. Just think about when you have a great picture taken of you, the usual thought is – "Oh yeah! New profile picture!"
We need to be careful with this need to capture the moment, for it can take us from active participants in life to passive observers.
As I stood at the edge of Horseshoe Bend, I took a minute to listen to and observe those around me. I watched as everyone obsessed over getting their perfect shot. A few girls my age were actually arguing about who got to do what pose at the cliff's edge.
“I want to get a picture of me meditating right here!” a girl said.
“Are you kidding?!?!” her friend replied, “I totally said I was going to get a picture of me meditating like five minutes ago!”
Neither of them were into meditation. It was only about branding themselves as someone who would do such a thing in such a place. It was about looking like they were in touch with nature. It was about scoring points on social media.
As I stood there, I realized something quite sad. Horseshoe Bend is one of the most majestic, inspiring views on Planet Earth, yet it's somehow been reduced to a means of showing how great our lives are on social media.
Every day, thousands of people walk for ten minutes to the cliff's edge, take a bunch of pictures, share the best one on social media, and leave without ever actually experiencing what was right in front of them. Exploration and enjoyment are no longer the highest priority of heading outdoors – capturing our exploration and enjoyment has become more important.
We still go visit these incredible places. We still set eyes on them. And on the surface, it might not seem like a big deal. But what underlies the physical act of getting out into the wild has been poisoned by this need to capture it. It severs our connection with nature. It makes us merely observers. When filtering our experience for the perfect image, we filter out our presence as well.
Wild places are where we can always go to get out of our heads. To find presence. To experience clarity. To exist in that state of “flow,” where nothing else matters but the moment. Where epic scenery inspires, awes us, and can overwhelm our spirit. I literally cried when I first set eyes upon Le Conte Canyon while backpacking the John Muir Trail two years ago.
The great outdoors are where we go to refresh our very souls, but this constant need to capture the moment obstructs all of this.
For a couple years now, I've been carrying a camera with me while I explore. I've ruined some great moments trying to capture them, but I think I've finally got it figured out. The key is to be able to turn that internal photographic filter off. We must want to experience and be present in a place more than we want to capture it.
When I walked up to Horseshoe Bend, I took a while to just take it all in. I shouldered my camera while I felt the expansiveness. I stood too close to the edge and felt that sharp flash of fear. I stared out at the incredible scene before me and took everything I could from it. Only afterwards did I pop the lens cap off my camera.
Handle your need to capture the moment with care.
You can have your cake and eat it too.