Monday, 29 August 2011

Why people prefer photographs over video

When I was 13 we were robbed and among the loot taken was my dad's Sony Camcorder.  Using miniature VHS tapes and only slightly bigger than your hand, the Sony made it very easy to record any action.  Video cameras seem like a great way to capture a certain time of your life in detail, and they allow you to re-live those times as often as you like.

Then when our insurance paid us out my dad went out and bought a Canon Sureshot still camera.  He correctly pointed out that after the first few months of owning the Sony, we hardly actually made any videos.   The Sony was as small as any camera, so it wasn't a question of portability.  And besides, aren't videos supposed to be better than stills?  We go to the movie theatre to watch movies - we certainly don't pay money to look at stills - so why are still cameras so much more popular when it comes to personal use?

The answer is threefold.  Firstly when you video people in a real life setting they don't look nearly as glamourous as what we are used to seeing on TV.  Directors and professional cameramen ensure that an actor is portrayed in the best possible way.  When I see myself in a family video I cringe at how goofy I look.  My voice sounds more annoying than I would like it to when I hear it played back.  I don't want to watch a video of myself: it makes me feel exposed and awkward.  Making it worse is that you are watching yourself on the same panel that mostly displays artistic, beautiful angles of people like Daniel Craig and Katy Perry  - in other words you look out of place on your own TV.

Then there's the fact that watching a video takes time.  Most home videos comprise of family holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  As the camera roves around to capture everyone in attendance, every fifth person will awkwardly wave when the lens is placed on them. You will then have the pleasure of watching these drawn out scenes again when you play it back on your TV.  For the few good moments like the cutting of the birthday cake, you have to relive the agony of all the boring parts too, like the lighting of the candles.  You can edit the video after shooting it, but that takes even more time than just watching the full video itself.

Finally, home videos are boring.  In most cases everyone watching the video was there while the video was being shot.  So when the recording is being played back everyone knows what's coming up next.  While there will be a few forced laughs and plastered grins as you watch with the family, you can't truly enjoy a repeat of something you have already seen or in this case, lived through.  It can be a real anti-climax as the fun you had is just not fully captured in the video.

Then there's photography: just a snapshot of time captured with no animation or sound.  Your mind is left to fill in the rest as your imagination replays the best parts of the incident and deletes the boring bits.  The moment is re-lived in a few seconds, and your selective recollection ensures you have only fond memories when you look at a still.  A simple, primitive photograph does something a home video cannot: It fires your imagination.

And this is why still cameras rule when it comes to logging your life.  Unless you are present at a UFO sighting or an erupting volcano, stick to photographs.

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