Don’t Take Photos on Your Phone

Because it’s too easy to take a photo and it’s too easy to share a photo, it becomes too easy to be selfish and unintentional with your photography.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.” Ever heard that one before? Apple uses it nearly every time they launch a new iPhone and it’s true…in a way. iPhones and smartphones in general, allow us to capture moments that we never could have ever dreamed possible just a couple years ago. We use phones because we can effortlessly take photos with them: Just pull it out of your pocket and SNAP! You have an pretty high quality image that you can remember a moment in time with. It’s simple, it’s smooth, it’s easy, and that's the problem. The problem isn’t that your smartphone doesn’t take great photos, it most likely does...the problem is that it’s too easy. Because it’s too easy to take a photo and it’s too easy to share a photo, and it's too easy to get lost in all of it, it becomes too easy to be selfish and unintentional with your photography. Hear me out.

In the summer of last year, I went to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona to view the iconic canyon at sunset. I figured it would be packed, but what I didn’t account for was how many people were standing there not looking at the sunset at all. I got up near the front, sat down on the edge, and looked out over the canyon below; it was incredible. The vastness and beauty of it is truly beyond words. The sunset was mind-blowingly beautiful. I was amazed how quickly it started to set, so I took out my camera and looked around. What I saw still continues to amaze me to this day: almost everyone was looking at their phones. There were hundreds and hundreds of people, I kid you not, all looking at their phones. They were either taking landscape shots, taking selfies, posting on Instagram, making Snapchat videos and Facebook live videos…anything and every except looking at the beautiful scenery in front of them with their own damn two eyes.

The problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t enjoy looking at beautiful things, or else why in the world would we be there? The problem is that it’s too easy to do too many things on our phones other than look at what is in front of us. We are creatures in an age of instant gratification: of course we are going to want to share a beautiful photo immediately to the world, and of course we are going to want to check and see if it’s well received. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, I’m saying it’s what we are used to doing with our phones, which is why I’m asking you to stop taking photos with them. There are plenty of cameras that are easily better and faster than what’s currently sitting inside your iPhone that won’t break the bank. You can even buy a 64GB SD Card for one that’s less than the cost of a lunch…all for photos!  

I love seeing your Instagram posts, trust me. I’m sure some of you reading this have inspired me to love photography and to start traveling, so thank you, but please consider leaving your phones in your pocket or in your car when you are sight seeing. Pick up a camera and use it for what it was made for: making memories. I think you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll remember those moments (and how much better those photos are anyway). 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Matt Van SwolExplorer

Matt Van Swol is a self-taught landscape photographer, writer, and nuclear scientist for the US Department of Energy. After personally struggling with depression for many years, he is passionate about showing others t...