I didn’t take a picture of the sunset tonight.

Written Tuesday, November 24. 

I didn’t take a picture of the sunset tonight.

And that’s an unusual statement for a landscape and farm photographer to make.

It could be said that the reason was I only had a camera phone and the focus has not been cooperating for the last few weeks.

But I have been making it work and certainly could have made it work again.

It could be said that I didn’t take the picture because the colors don’t turn out right on my camera phone. The brilliant oranges are dulled, the deep pinks are washed out, and the entire picture gains a harsh tinge of yellow that shouldn’t be there.

But I could have edited the picture on my computer.

No. The real reason I didn’t take a photograph was this: the sunset tonight was too real, too awe-inspiring, too colorful and too beautiful. To reduce the event to a mini-SD card on a Nokia Lumia phone seemed flippant.

All of this seems strange for a photographer to write. And part of the situation seems selfish: why wouldn’t someone experiencing that sort of joy and beauty want to share it with the world? But sometimes, I yearn to put the lens away and just experience life as it happens, not through high-definition pixels on a screen, but through the brilliant resolution of the true scene before me. As a young girl chasing lightning bugs, I want to capture the moment with a jar that I’ll store in the shelves of my memory rather than with the click of a button.

I once saw a bald eagle while my father and I rode in our farm truck to Grandmother’s house. Music from the radio jumped from left speaker to right speaker as the vehicle bounced along the country road. The eagle etched its way across the cloudless, winter blue Indiana sky, and I lamented that I didn’t have my camera with me to capture the moment.

Dad, quoting the great philosophers Green Day, said, “Take the photographs and still frames in your mind…” waving his hand about as he did.

And so I did capture the moment, after all. This incident occurred in late elementary school or early junior high, and I can still pull the memory from my archives when I want. I can see the scene clearly: the eagle, the fields, the road, my dad, the dusty gray farm truck, the radio.

The same thing happened when my family traveled to Conner Prairie, a living history museum, for the Fourth of July. I did not have my camera. Once again, Dad said to take the pictures in my mind. I became more alert, and colors from that day are still sharp in my recollections.

With photographing every moment, time is stolen away into the abyss of SD cards in my phone or cameras, becoming pixelated and so numerous that the value shrinks. If I had taken a picture of the sunset tonight, the colors would have been all wrong, the vivid lines separating the clouds washed out. Instead, I watered the horses, lifting my face to the cold air and taking in the silhouette of a lone tree against the brilliant, deep colors no artist could paint and no photographer could capture.

Perhaps if my camera had been working, this post would not exist. I would have taken the picture and added it to my thousands of photographs on my laptop.

But this is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I’ve missed things like details at a concert or athletic event, events on the periphery of my vision, because I was looking through the screen, waiting for the perfect picture. I still want that perfect picture because I am still a photographer. But I want to put the screen down more often.

I won’t stop taking pictures. But I will stop missing the moments.

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