With film cameras, taking a photo used to be a process. But now, with smartphones and digital photography, all of us have a high-end camera in our pockets at all times. It’s estimated that people took a whopping 1.2 trillion of photos in 2018! But have you ever thought about an impact this has on us? How photography affects our mood and memories in the modern era? Peter Rubin of WIRED decided to explore it, and he brings some interesting findings in this 10-minute video.
Peter starts with probably “the most controversial form of modern photography” – selfies. Have you ever thought about how taking and posting selfies affects our moods and self-esteem? Sadly, the impact doesn’t seem to be positive at all. First of all, people can find it discouraging and depressing when their selfies don’t get enough praise on social media. But it goes even further than this.
Thanks to the proximity of the phone camera to our face and its focal length, our noses seem around 30% larger in selfies. However, some people are so unsatisfied with how they look in selfies, that they consider having a nose job. As a matter of fact, a recent study has shown that as much as 55% of plastic surgery patients want to look better in selfies. Because of this, some doctors use software that annuls the distortion of the phone lens and shows patients what their face really looks like.
Events and scenery
Okay, we’ve seen that taking selfies doesn’t really have a positive effect. But what happens when you turn that camera the other way? Well, taking photos of events and scenery can have both positive and negative impact, according to Alixandra Barasch, a marketing professor at NYU.
According to Barasch, taking photos can have a negative impact on your memory of experiences that aren’t primarily visual (for example, concerts or eating at a restaurant). This takes you out of the moment and distracts you from hearing the music or tasting the food. And if you’re posting the images to social media, it distracts you even further from the experience. So think about this before you pull out your phone at a concert, or at a restaurant when your food arrives.
However, if you really want to take those photos and share them, there are ways to maximize the good sides and minimize the bad ones. Barasch believes that the key is to take photos for yourself in the moment and forget about the sharing part during this. If you want to share the images, you should do it later.
When it comes to the positive sides, Barasch notes that taking photos (or even just an intent of it) can sometimes make you feel more involved in the experience. However, it’s only with the experiences that are primarily visual. If you’re enjoying a wonderful scenery or perhaps an exhibition, this is when taking photos can make you feel more immersed in it.
How photographers see the world
As we know, taking snapshots with your phone is different from carefully planning and composing images. Peter wanted to examine how photographers look at the world compared to those who just take casual snaps. So, he teamed up with photographer Chris Burkard and Tobii, a Swedish company that makes specialized glasses for tracking eye movements.
The guys performed some tests while wearing the glasses. First, they visited a science museum Exploratorium. Later they observed some images on the screen and evaluated them. In both tests, it turned out that a photographer sees the world differently from a non-photographer.
At the museum, Chris would explore the photographic opportunities with his eyes and by walking around, and then he would compose the shots and press the shutter. On the other hand, Peter would experience his subjects mainly by observing them on the phone screen and not by looking around. When it comes to evaluating images, they also have different patterns of eye movements. Peter’s eyes were “all over the place,” while Chris examined several specific points of interest for longer periods of time.
I’m sure we can all agree that photography affects us, and it can be in a wide variety of ways. It can help you cope with mental disorders, but it can also cause them! The impact depends on many factors, such as what you photograph, how you approach the subjects and how much of it you want to share on social media. I’d say: shoot away and use photography as a medium to record memories and capture the world around you as you see it. But, don’t forget to sometimes put the camera down and just enjoy the moment.