I recently watched an amazing TED video called “Does Photographing a Moment Steal the Experience from You?” by Erin Sullivan. In it, she asks whether our current obsession with taking photographs is actually causing us to appreciate things less. I think that it’s a really good question and I was so glad that she made this video about it.

I love photography! It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world and I often carry my camera with me when I go outside. (You can see my photos here.) For me, photography is like meditation – it is a time when my mind can be at peace and I can get rid of all the daily stress. But I’m definitely aware that sometimes I need to stop taking photos and just enjoy my surroundings.

Anyway, I thought that it would be fun to use this video to make some IELTS practice questions. I know that most of you are locked up at home with nothing else to do, so you have the perfect opportunity!

(If you want more IELTS practice on the topic of photography, check out this lesson.)


First of all, let’s watch the video. I would recommend turning off the subtitles and just enjoying it. Don’t worry about understanding everything. Just let the language sink in and get a feel for the main ideas.

True / False

Go to 01:00 and listen again. I want you to decide whether the statements below are TRUE or FALSE. Answers are at the bottom of the page.

  1. She goes to famous places to take pictures of the visitors.
  2. When doing photography, she notices very small details.
  3. She prefers portrait photography to landscape photography.
  4. People feel happier when they only take photos to share them.

Fill the Blanks

Listen from about 03:00 and fill in the blanks with NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the video.

As a photographer, I’ve really had to check myself on this. When does it help me to have my camera out, and when do I just need to ____1_____? On a trip to Alaska, I had the opportunity to photograph Alaskan brown bears. I was on a boat with four ______2_____, and we were all having our minds blown at the same time in such _____3______ to these animals. It’s an emotional experience. Being eye to eye with these bears gave me a feeling of connection that _____4_____, and having my camera with me in this case enhanced that. We were all _____5_____ but also all completely in the moment, both with nature and with each other. I so clearly remember capturing the water droplets and the ____6____ as the bears swam and the cute cubs following their mothers. That group and I will have that experience together and these images to look back on time and time again, and photography is what ______7_____ to share this in the first place.


Throughout this video, Erin Sullivan uses rhetorical questions to make a point to her audience. A rhetorical question is one that you do not expect an answer to. For example, people often, “Nice day, isn’t it?” meaning “It’s a nice day.” They don’t really expect anyone to say “yes” or “no.”

Here are some of Erin’s rhetorical questions:

  1. So this made me wonder: Why are we taking photos in the first place?
  2. When does it help me to have my camera out, and when do I just need to put it away?
  3. Is there a difference when it’s just your phone?
  4. Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway?
  5. What if the next time you were somewhere amazing, you couldn’t bring your camera or phone?

Each of these could be a valid question, but she is asking them as part of a speech and she does not intend for the audience to answer her. In that sense, each question functions like a statement.

In a speech like this, some questions are intended to guide the audience. You ask a question and then you answer it. However, other times the question has an obvious answer that does not need said. When she asks, “Is there a difference when it’s just your phone?” the implied answer is “no.”

You can use rhetorical questions in IELTS but be careful not to over-use them. One of the best ways is to add, “isn’t it?” at the end of a sentence. If the examiner asks you something really challenging, you might say, “Well that’s a difficult question, isn’t it?” and then attempt your answer.

You may be able to use these in your writing test but I would advise caution. It takes real skill to put questions naturally into writing and there is definitely scope for failure.


Let’s make this into a challenge! Ok, I will make the ideas that Erin Sullivan discussed into an IELTS writing question. Obviously, it is not real, but I will try to make it similar to real test. If you write your answers in the comment section below, I will give you some feedback.

Digital photography is very common nowadays, but some people think that by taking photos of every beautiful place we go, we actually get less benefit from the experience.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Sample Answer

I’m now going to write a sample answer to that question.

In the twenty-first century, it has become very common for people to use their phones to take photos, and social media has meant that anyone can share their pictures with the world. As such, people instinctively take photos whenever they see something beautiful. This essay will argue that it probably reduces their overall level of enjoyment.

To begin with, cameras can help us to appreciate our surroundings more because they let us capture images of it. By focusing on light, shape, and colour, we are able to gain a better understanding of the world around us and to focus on it for longer than we normally would. However, most people do not take the time to appreciate these things. Instead, they pull out their phone and snap a quick picture without really thinking about it. In this sense, their camera is making them spend less time actually enjoying the view.

We also tend to think of cameras as a way of recording a moment so that it can be enjoyed again later, and this is undoubtedly true in many cases. People go to amazing locations and take beautiful pictures partly so that they can look at them again later and remember the place they visited. However, it could be argued that it is better to simply enjoy the place and then remember it properly from the experience rather than the picture. When people just stare at their phone, they are not really taking in their surroundings, and so these will be easily forgotten.

In conclusion, cameras are great for capturing moments, but they probably do not help people to fully appreciate and remember these times. Perhaps it is better to simply put the camera away and enjoy the scene naturally.


True / False

  1. FALSE – she notices that people just take pictures and leave
  2. TRUE
  3. FALSE – she treats landscapes like portraits
  4. FALSE – they enjoy it less when they take photos to share

Fill the blanks

  1. put it away
  2. other photographers
  3. close proximity
  4. transcends words
  5. creating independently
  6. motion
  7. enabled us