Modern Life

Can taking photos put you more in the moment?

When you do it the right way, photography can enhance your life.

By Garage Staff — July 19, 2018

If you're one of the thousands of people planning on attending Panorama Music Festival in New York City, there's one thing you can count on during the concerts: You're just as likely to see as many raised phones as you are eyes. Everywhere you look, there’ll be a screen. People shoot and post their snaps and videos to social media in real time or immediately after. The practice is so common now that some musicians have banned phones from their concerts altogether.

But it’s not just concerts that people are photographing. Every day, at least 95 million photos and videos are uploaded to Instagram — a number that has been growing steadily for years.

What is all this photographing and posting — rather than simply experiencing — doing to our enjoyment? The answer is complicated, but some studies have shown that taking photos during events can actually make them more fun if you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Taking photos makes you happy, posting on social media does not

When you’re at an event and photographing it to preserve a memory and view the images later, your enjoyment is enhanced. In a number of experiments, Dr. Alixandra Barasch, assistant professor of marketing at NYU School of Business, and her collaborators, Dr. Kristin Diehl of the University of Southern California and Dr. Gal Zauberman of Yale University, found that people reported greater enjoyment of an experience if they took photos while it was happening. The researchers conducted one experiment on a bus tour of Philadelphia.

They gave half of the participants a digital camera and asked them to take at least ten photos during the tour. The other half did not have a camera and could not take photos. Neither group had access to their phones. After the tour, everyone was asked to fill out a survey rating their enjoyment of the experience, and the people who took photos said they had more fun than people who did not. When people are photographing, they pay closer attention to their surroundings and are more engaged in the moment, which delivers more enjoyment.  

“Photo-taking can be very positive for people because it draws people into the experience,” says Barasch. The caveat? Enjoyment actually plunges if you immediately post your photos to social media.

Post your pics — just not immediately

If you’re taking a photo to share on social media, other considerations crowd out your engagement with the moment, say the researchers. “Thinking about how many ‘likes’ and shares and comments you’re going to get can undermine the enjoyment you would otherwise get from an experience,” Barasch explains.

Taking a photo for the purpose of posting it online instantly makes you self-conscious, whether you realize it or not, and triggers anxiety about how people will perceive you based on that image.

 “Thinking about how many ‘likes’ and shares and comments you’re going to get can undermine enjoyment.”

Dr. Alixandra Barasch

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your photos on social media — just do it later. Share those images after the moment has passed. “Take the photo, become immersed and enjoy the experience while it lasts,” Barasch recommends. “Try to disengage with the sharing part of photos during the experience itself. As long as you’re not thinking about Facebook and Instagram in the moment of taking the shot, it’s totally fine to go share it later.”

Enjoy the show, during and after

Take photos of a concert before the show begins and after it ends.


Take photos of a concert before the show begins and after it ends.

Taking photos during an event also aids your memory of that event. In another experiment, Barasch and her collaborators found that people remember more of what they’ve seen if they took photos during the experience. They sent subjects to a museum in two groups. The experimenters asked one group to take photos of whatever they liked and another group not to take photos. Both groups listened to audio guides.

People in the group that took photos were able to recognize the artifacts they had seen better than those who hadn’t taken any photos. People who took photos, however, remembered less of what they had learned in the audio guide. There is a trade-off: Since there’s only so much a person can pay attention to at once and taking photos focuses your attention on visual details, you’ll remember less of what you hear.

Take pictures of your friends, not the stage

When you’re at a festival like Panorama or any live event, you may want to use your phone sparingly — and not just so you can focus on listening. It’s also important to remember that the people standing behind you would rather not watch the show through your screen and that most performers would prefer to look out onto a sea of faces than a sea of phones. That’s in addition to the potential for copyright infringement.

Instead, think about taking photos of your friends having fun and other candid shots.  Barasch says that her future research shows that people enjoy looking at images of their friends and family more than photos of objects or landscapes. So don’t spend too much time recording the same images that everyone else is getting.

“My picture of a concert is basically the same as everybody else’s who uploaded them to the internet,” one of Barasch’s collaborators, Dr. Kristin Diehl, says. “What is unique is me and my friends in that moment in that setting.”

“My picture of a concert is basically the same as everybody else’s. What is unique is me and my friends in that moment in that setting.”

Dr. Kristin Diehl

In the end, the most fun photos from your night out will likely be those candid snaps.

study conducted by Harvard Business School doctoral student Ting Zhang found that people get more enjoyment from looking at photos of mundane moments from their past than they do from posed pictures. That means the magic is in snaps of your friends getting ready for an event or on the ride there or grinning in their seats. Those are the photos that will prove more meaningful to you in the long run than the fuzzy figures on a stage.  

Now, the next time someone tsk-tsks you about “not being in the moment” when you’re taking photos, you can let them in on the secret: Be here now, share later.


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