Photography and memory


A research study confirmed something I (and probably lots of us) already knew.  “Taking photos interferes with memory”.

I learnt this many years ago when taking rolls and rolls of film (10 if memory serves me well) at a friend’s wedding.  For a long time after, when I recalled that wedding, all I could see in my mind’s eye were those photos.

But all was not lost.  As the years marched on, the memories “normalised” – that is, they are of an event, with movement and sound, not just captured images in a rectangular shape.  The interference passed and I have some great memories of the day.

I think the key was found by the researchers in their second study:

“Zooming in on the detail helped preserve memory, not only of the detail but also of information experienced outside the image’s frame.”

In my years of experience, the significant factor is not “taking pictures” but how you take them.

For those of us who look with a photographer’s eye, who look for context and meaning, who compare and contrast what’s happening now with what has gone before, who look for colour and shape and composition … how could we not enhance our memory of the event when recall is influenced by the number of pathways we create to a particular piece of information.

There are many occasions and people I can easily recall BECAUSE I got the camera out, yet I’ve not seen those photos for years.



Association for Physiological Science Press Release, 9 December 2013, “No Pictures, Please: Taking Photos May Impede Memory of Museum Tour”

Henkel, Linda A, “Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour”, published in Psychological Science, December 2013.

Related Posts

A couple of posts on travelling with a camera that touch on this topic – here and here.


The lass at the front of the queue is me.





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