Want to Remember That Special Moment? Put Your Camera Away…

Intuitively, it makes sense.

If you want to remember that special moment, many of us instinctively reach for our phone or camera to take a picture of it.

However, that does not seem to be the case.

In his most recent Wall Street Journal column, Dan Ariely addresses this very issue in responding to a question from a reader:


Dear Dan,

Whenever my mother visits us, she’s preoccupied with taking photos of her grandchildren so that she can remember every moment. Having her camera in our faces all the time is annoying, but I don’t want to deprive her of good memories when the visit ends. Should I try to convince her to stop taking pictures? —Barbara

And here was Dan’s response:

Now that most of us carry a phone with a camera, it’s hard to resist the temptation to document every significant moment in photographs. But it turns out that taking pictures all the time isn’t just annoying; it can make it more difficult to remember the very experiences the photos are intended to capture.

In one experiment, pairs of visitors took a tour of a historic landmark. One person in each pair was instructed to take photos and the other was told not to. A few weeks later they were given a surprise memory test about the landmark, and it turned out that the visitors who took photos remembered much less than those who didn’t. While the photographers were preoccupied with trying to get the best shot, the nonphotographers were able to think about the experience and absorb it into the structure of their memories.

With this in mind, try asking your mother to experiment with leaving her camera at home next time she visits. She might find that this allows her to spend more time really interacting with the grandchildren, leaving her with memories that are more vivid and meaningful than any photos.


I would think a combo of such behavior would work best.

Perhaps people should set a limit on their photo-taking. Maybe one photo per hour, or per landmark, or per visit. That way they have some physical keepsake from the experience, but doing so allows them to focus their time and attention on the experience itself, rather than worry about trying to capture it on a camera.

This approach would enable the person to share the experience with others, but has the benefit of not overwhelming those people with too many photographs, many of which may seem quite similar to one another.

So maybe it’s time for a new phrase:

a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a memory is worth a thousand pictures…

62 thoughts on “Want to Remember That Special Moment? Put Your Camera Away…

  1. I can see both sides of this. I’ve been places where people are constantly photographing things to where I don’t think they’re processing that much in real-time. On the other hand, sometimes, when I look back at a photograph, it will remind me of something that seems to have long been forgotten. If there wasn’t visual evidence, I don’t know that I’d remember it at all. It is a bit scary how quickly my memory has faded.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like your new phrase. It’s catchy and hard to forget.

    Another solution to this is, take the same vacation twice. On the first vacation, take a pile of pictures. But on the second vacation, don’t take any. After all, you already have a bunch of pictures of that place, so now you can just relax and enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that idea of taking the same vacation twice! Though there are so many places I want to go I need more time if I have to take each trip 2x. 🙂
      Brad and I just want to become full time travelers!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Taking the same vacation twice? Good idea! One problem though. There are so many places that I want to go too, need more time if I have to go twice. Apparently Brad and I just need to become full time travelers! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think a couple of photos are good memory-triggers. Without photos, I wouldn’t have many of my memories. One photo can stimulate a thousand thoughts, especially when viewing a shared experience with another.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. An interesting post and comments, Jim I myself try to take photos at the beginning as I get self-absorbed and end up taking none and as the comments suggest and my memory, as I age also suggests, prompts as a photo help to jog the memory …Have a great weekend, Jim 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As a photographer, I’d have to agree that while it’s true that if you are preoccupied with taking photos, the memory of the place will be more of how you took photos, and not of the actual thing itself. With moderation, sure, it’s nice. But if you pepper the journey with nonstop photos, it would be a different experience, and you’ll most likely forget it.

    But a photo will help you remember it. If you took the photo, then put it away, then your memory is just as gone as that photo.

    Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The downside of taking a lot of photos is exactly what you say, potentially missing out on the experience. I take a lot of pictures for my blog. Getting the best photos requires being observant and taking time to look around. Generally, I’ll spend less than 10 -15 minutes per hour actually taking photos. With digital cameras the temptation is to take tons of photos. People were more selective with film.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I rely on the camera to document places I visit. You canntremember or share in any detail the uncountable artworks of a great catherdral, for example, without a camera. But the camera is only an extension of the eye…I don’t worry about getting the best shot, just a record… and it is point, shoot and spend the rest of the time experiencing the moment. I have very few photos of my grandchildren and friends however, and rely on their parents to keep me supplied. I would rather enjoy every minute with them than ake loads of pictures 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have travelled all over the world, back before cell phones, when you needed a camera to have a camera. I took many pictures. But they have sat in a box in the closet for ages. As the person who experienced these moments in my own life, I have little need for them to recall those times and the feelings associated with them. I can recall these captured images and many left uncaptured, at least for now, without the photographs. The photos seem to serve more of a purpose for others to look at than for myself. As with all things, it is balance that holds the answer. Great post, Jim!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think the half and half idea is a sound one. I love to take pics to help me remember or to catch something interesting and of course, to help support the story or blog that I’m writing, but sometimes it’s important to just be fully present in a moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Love your last sentence! As someone who is guilty taking thousands of pictures on multiple cameras, I can attest to this. I now pay less attention to taking the perfect shot and make a point of putting the camera(s) down to enjoy and absorb the moment. I still take a ton of photos though. One twist is that having the blog I go through the photos and relive these memories; sometimes I find in photos things that I haven’t noticed while I was there. Practicing both excessive picture-taking and being in the moment is probably is a good solution for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it sounds like you have found a solution that works for you. I think the key thing is that you are aware of what you are doing in the moment, whether it is taking the picture or experiencing your surroundings…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You’re so right. Just as drinking, too much is bad but a little is fine. I don’t want to miss the experience so I even ignore my phone when I’m with friends and family, but I do take at least a few shot just to remember the good times.

    Liked by 1 person

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