The way we take photos has changed drastically over the last few decades. It wasn’t too long ago that capturing memories was done through the medium of film photography. Each photo was bound to a roll of 24 exposures, and since film was expensive and scarce (in comparison to modern digital photography) people were trained to be more intentional in their decisions. As a result, photos captured in the days of film photography were both meaningful and timeless. Thought was put behind each photo, and cameras were not pulled out as often as they are now.
As technology evolves, our habits, practices and mentalities tend to shift and adapt, too. The invention of digital photography has made cameras more portable and photos more instant. Since the option to take a photo now rests, quite literally, at the tip of our fingers, the amount of photos we take has increased. The type of photos we take, and our reasons for taking them, has also changed.
A Case for Presence
Chances are, if you look through your photos you’ll find countless duplicates. There may even be multiple versions of a photo that means very little, if anything, to you. Nowadays, people may take more photos than they even have the time or space to look at… or, sort through. Our camera rolls are filled with photos that, in retrospect, are nothing more than junk. While these images may have felt important to capture at the time, they result in a mountain of digital clutter that often leaves you wishing you had never taken half of them (if not more!) to begin with. When we hold on to possessions that have little meaning, we’re essentially hanging on to past versions of ourselves. In the end, we’re left feeling burdened and stuck. We’re also left with a pile of digital clutter that, one day, we’ll have to sort through. Most of the time, that day gets pushed back and the clutter builds.
What I’m about to suggest is something you’ve definitely heard before and it’s something that, I’ll admit, can sound a little cliché. The reason I believe it’s recommended so often, though, is because it’s a meaningful tip that can help address a range of problems: learning to live in the present moment.
Getting to the Root Cause
I want you to ask yourself: why do you feel compelled to take photos of mundane events in your life? Be honest with yourself here, there’s absolutely no judgment. I’ve caught myself doing the same thing.
I’ve found that I sometimes take photos to keep memories alive. To make sure that I don’t forget what I’m seeing or experiencing because, in the moment, it feels like something I would want to remember forever. What if I told you, though, that taking photos might actually affect your ability to remember events clearly? Research conducted by Linda Henkel suggests that people are less likely to remember details of things they photograph, which she explains as a “photo-taking-impairment” effect. When we trust our cameras to keep our memories for us, we spend less time observing and internalizing the moment for ourselves. Sure, you’ll have the photos to look back on later, but it will come at the expense of extra digital clutter that you, most likely, will not ever want to deal with.
“Divided attention is absolutely an enemy of memory” - Henkel
To put it another way: think of all the times you’ve been distracted by your phone while having a conversation with someone. It’s the same idea. When your attention is split, you aren’t able to focus clearly and you end up not remembering things as well as you could. When we make an effort to give our undivided attention to whatever is in front of us, we have a higher chance of forming strong memories.
Which brings us back to the idea of living in the present. Learning to live in the present teaches us to appreciate the only time that really matters: the now. It takes practice, but it’s worth it. When you get more comfortable with living in the current moment, you’ll feel more calm and aware. You’ll also feel less of a need (and desire) to digitally offload your experiences because the anxiety of needing to remember everything (aka, living in the past or future) will disappear.
I’m not suggesting that you stop taking photos all together. Photography is a great way to keep memories alive, but it shouldn’t be something that you rely on to feel complete.
Instead, I recommend creating a list of values for the type of photos that you think are worth capturing. The type of photos you would want to look back on, that would make you feel happy. Be more selective about the things you choose to photograph, and focus your attention on getting the perfect shot on the first or second try instead of capturing multiple mediocre versions of the same thing. Not only will this help reduce your digital clutter, but the extra attention you spend on taking photos this way will help you to form stronger memories.
When you’ve got it, make sure to put your camera away as soon as you’re done so that you can get back to enjoying the present moment.
To keep your memories alive, I suggest organizing your photos and sharing them - in a photo album, a presentation, or even on social media. That way, you can strengthen your memories while giving your photos extra meaning by sharing them with the people who matter to you.
Interested in my Services?
I hope these tips and reflections will help you to start taking photos in a more thoughtful, clutter-free way. Before doing so, I recommend organizing your old photos so that you can start fresh.
If this is something you’d like to do, but don’t have the time or energy to do it yourself, I’m here to help. I offer Photo Decluttering and Organization services where I sort through photos from all of your devices and organize them so you can get back to cherishing those memories again. Book your free Discovery Call today to see how I can help.