Are you falling victim to the photo-taking impairment effect?

At the end of last year, the media picked up on a study at Fairfield University which seemed to indicate that by taking photographs as a record of things you see, you impair your ability to actually remember them.  The experiment was conducted during a museum tour, with some participants asked to take photos and others just to look.  They also noted that if participants paid more attention to the object, by zooming in and photographing smaller details, the impairment effect was overcome.

This seems to fit in pretty neatly with my own experience and expectations.  If we walk around snap, snap, snapping away, with paying attention, it is not surprising that we remember very little.  In fact, perhaps our memory takes the opportunity to switch off, as we know we can look at the pictures later.  This approach allows us to daydream, coast and really avoid being present to whatever is in front of us.  Why pay attention?  The camera will take notes for you!  When I see those people who seem to view their entire holiday through the lens of a camera, taking pictures or video, I have to wonder if their attention is on the subject or on the technicalities of recording it.

It is only when we truly engage with our subject that we see it clearly.  For me this invariably means up-close and personal, but it doesn’t have to.  I love to explore the little details of texture and light, shadows and form.  I like to slow right down, to spend time exploring my subject visually before I get my camera out of the bag.  Sometimes I decide against using the camera at all; despite the advances of modern technology in those little boxes of tricks, they can’t always record the sheer magnificence of the scene perceived by the human eye.  This is why I rarely take pictures of sunsets, preferring to sit and watch the subtly changing light than to dwell on camera settings and framing.  In fact some of my most memorable images are the ones that ‘got away’.  Despite my generally poor memory these days, those images are firmly settled in my mind to be treasured for the future.  No camera required!