I met a breast implant dealer and a cowgirl in a Madrid taqueria and we did (not) take a photo

I met a breast implant dealer and a cowgirl in a Madrid taqueria and we did (not) take a photo

It was in February when we discussed how much attention phone-makers pay to cameras. In a nutshell, recent flagships from Apple, Google, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi etc., dedicate tons of time and resources into developing, designing, and marketing the camera experience of their most recent flagship phones. Phones might be getting new camera bumps, but oftentimes the sensors, lenses, and even image processing are far from new.

Again in the same story, I mentioned that manufacturers can’t be blamed for focusing on the camera experience, since the demand, or people’s obsession with the best smartphone camera seems to be as strong as ever.

Warning: Brilliant segue on the way!

And as it turns out, traveling really can further affect one’s outlook on certain things. For me, it took two recent trips to Berlin and Madrid, which got me thinking:

Let’s explore!

Pixel 6 Pro has an incredibly fun camera system… perhaps too fun!

Before I try to convince you to start taking less photos with your phone, I must say I really do love the Pixel 6 Pro‘s camera system. I’m focusing on the Pixel 6 Pro because it’s my primary device at the moment.

The main and periscope zoom cameras on Google’s flagship device are pretty amazing no matter whether you’re taking photos or videos, in good, mixed, or low light conditions. Framing a “professional-looking” shot with the Pixel’s 4x zoom camera is a piece of cake, which makes this my favorite phone camera to use… ever. In fact, despite being noticeably weaker in quality, even the ultra-wide-angle camera has proved to be useful for photos of tall/long buildings.

Furthermore, the Pixel offers a bunch of truly jaw-dropping camera tricks courtesy of Google’s advanced software work. Action Pan lets you take pro-looking action shots where the moving subject is frozen in motion, while my Chilean friend Felipe, who I met at a hostel in Madrid, was absolutely mind-blown by the Magic Eraser, which can remove photobombers from your picture with one click.


I’ve noticed that it’s exactly the abundance of focal lengths and fun features on modern flagship phones that tricks me into taking more, and more, and more photos that I don’t necessarily need or won’t use… perhaps ever.

For example, having three different focal lengths is extremely useful, and brings smartphones as close to “real” cameras as they’ve ever been. However, it’s also an open invitation to fill up your phone with at least three different photos of the same thing:

  • One from far awaywith the ultra-wide-angle camera
  • One from not so far away with the primary shooter
  • And one from close away with the 4x zoom lens

The last one I often take just to blow my own mind. Just me?

Phones and fast food photography: Literally and figuratively

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m noticing a pattern of fast food approach with some of my photos and that inevitably makes them less intentional. On the flipside, I’m not big on actual fast food photos for Instagram, so I earn some points back.

See, if you’re on a trip to Berlin or Madrid and have only a few chances of capturing the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Santiago Bernabeu and the Miguel de Cervantes monument, I’d argue you’d make sure the photo you take is as good as possible.

However, combined with our fast food photography culture, phones with “crazy cameras” and hundreds of gigabytes of storage, might not be the best companion for those who want to stay present – something that should be the priority when traveling.

#TakeMeBack: Making real stories or making Instagram stories

The thing about fast food photography (I’m coining this term) is that we do it to prove to ourselves or someone else (oftentimes on social media) that we’ve been somewhere and do something either in real time or often even at a much later stage, when some people upload images from past trips (#Iwantback).

However, the concept of making memories can be and is wildly different than capturing images. Safe, seeing is believingbut we shouldn’t forget most people have the privilege of being able to hear, smell, taste, and literally feel the world around them – whether it’s a warm night in Madrid, or a rainy morning in Berlin.

And I’ve recently discovered that focusing on my phone screen, trying to take more and more pictures can detach me from my surroundings as a whole. The problem here is that some moments never happen twice.

Thanks, Conan

But it was listening to Conan O’Brien on the Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend podcast (after the trip to Berlin, but before the one to Madrid), when I realized I might want to be more present when I travel.

Conan’s an entertainer, so engaging with the people and circumstances around is crucial for making his show and comedy work. He’s traveled to many countries around the globe, thanks to the “Conan without borders” segment (from the now finished Conan show).
Ironically, he had a big camera crew at his disposal during every single trip, which helped capturing his fun interactions with the locals. It’s interesting that this time we see the camera in a role in which it facilitates engagement, rather than robbing one from the chance of experiencing it.

So, I decided to try to do the same…

This bit of the story was written in Madrid, so it’ll be in present tense.

Sadly, I didn’t get a camera crew, but I tried staying in the moment. I went to see a Champions League (football) game (soccer for our US readers), and I’ve already been lucky to meet and hang out with people from different corners of the globe. It’s my Conan show.

Have I taken 150 photos and videos in just a couple of days? Well, in my defence, and for my standards, this is less than usual. Moreover, these photos and videos include my first Champions League game everincluding seeing my childhood football hero, so I could’ve easily doubled that amount.

But guess what? I watched the game, and I enjoyed it. For the most part. There were two goals. I saw the second one. I was busy checking out the stadium and the electrifying atmosphere around when the first one was scored. It all feels like a dream…

In the end

In case you’re wondering, yes, I still catch myself taking my phone out during trips but now I actively and consciously try to regulate my photographic fast food intake.

And sometimes… I take the photo. Because I’m in Spain! There aren’t any uphill streets where I live. Duh. So, yes, I’m not there yet but I like to believe I’m making progress…

For example, I put this Belgian bunch in a restaurant in Madrid. I was about to get takeaway, but they invited me to sit. We had an hour-long conversation, and ended up going out for dinner the night after. and we didn’t take a photo. Not even one. But I remember what we talked about, how it made me feel, their stories… It’s refreshing.

For the record, we went back to the taco place for a photo the next day, but that’s because this entire story deserves to be made into a thin book, which hopefully I’ll put together… one day. But until then, if you’re looking to start regulating your own fast food picture-taking during trips, here are a few solutions that come to mind, which I might try out myself:

  • Perhaps you can get a phone with a less capable camera system, so taking pictures all the time is less tempting
  • Get a dumb phone and an actual camera or a deent smartphone, but also an actual camera for all your photos and videos
  • What about the Insta360 Go 2? It’s the world’s smallest action camera, that can be mounted on your shirt, and worn as a medallion, so you always have a POV of whatever you’re looking at. It can take photos and videos, leaving your hands and mind free from distractions

It’s a process, mi gente (that’s in Spanish, OK?)

Am I ditching my Pixel 6 Pro to start making memories? Well, that sounds exactly like what I’d love to do, but probably not just yet. Because my phone helps me take notes of my travels, and the images I take can come in handy when I can’t remember the timing or location of some events for my… book. Remember? Definitely happening.

At the same time, am I actually willing to give options like the Insta360 GB 2 to try? Safe! Wink, wink, Insta360. Apart from keeping me in the moment, I can think of another big advantage of a wearable action camera over phones for me, and that’s the fact that I’ll always have all my media on one device. Currently, I have my photos and videos spread across at least three different devices. Not cool.

Finally, the main takeaway form this bizarre story is that my trip to Berlin, Madrid and Conan’s podcast taught me that life’s highlights can come along spontaneously, without much notice. Hence, recording the moment in your memory should probably be a priority. Then come the photos and videos. OKAY?

I mean… I met a Belgian milker and a breast implant merchant at a Taco restaurant in Madrid. You don’t get to live your dreams by staring at your phone’s screen!

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