Are we losing our (photographic) memory?

I use my iPhone regularly as an aide memoir

When was the last time you saw your smart phone, stopped, closed your eyes and remembered…

Smart phones are everywhere now. Anyone can point their phone and hit the button, recording a memory… but does it really work that way?

The memory is a strange and powerful thing. We can remember every nuance of important moments in our life. Every emotion, every sight, every sound, even the smells. But to make a memory like that, we need to be living in the moment, experiencing it, every part of it. Recent research into the use of smart phones for taking pictures has uncovered some strange and perhaps worrying trends. It seems that using a smart phone to photograph our experiences may distract us to such an extent that we remember less.

As an example, two groups of students were let loose in an important church with instructions to take note of details such as the ‘cruciform shape of the church’ and ‘the bronze angels that greet you from the massive doors. Half of the participants had smart phones and were instructed to take photos. The other half were empty handed. When tested on what they experienced and saw a week later, those with the cameras consistently scored lower than those without.

Why would that be? Memory experts say that the first step to forming a lasting memory is to pay attention. The use of a camera phone is sufficient distraction to hinder the formation of memories. That is the scientific explanation but my own slant on that is that we have a tendency to take snaps with our phone as an ALTERNATIVE to forming a memory. 

I have no problem with using my phone camera as an aide memoir, or notepad. I do it all the time. Photographing everything from pig tags to bar codes, my photos app is a jumble of strange images that are simply there so that I can go back and refer to them but these are just jottings, not memories. There are more meaningful photographs there as well, but they are buried in the jumble of my photo app, as you can see above.

If we want to record a memory and take a photograph, perhaps we need to be more intentional, more Mindful. 

Stop. Take in the moment. Listen, Look, Smell, Feel. 

Remember the moment and then take the picture. 

When you see that picture later, your memory will be triggered and everything will come flooding back!

So let us go back to my original question. Did you ever react emotionally to your iPhone when you saw it on the table? Probably not.

Do you have a framed photograph that causes an emotional reaction? I certainly do. In my study, hangs a photograph of my OU graduation.


I sit proudly with Angela and both of my parents, who sadly are no longer with us. Every time I catch sight of that image on the wall, I remember the details of that day. Going up to collect my degree certificate. The chaos of the day, with hundreds of students milling around with their families. The pride in the eyes of my loved ones. All triggered by an image on the wall. An image taken by a professional photographer. 

Why do I remember the events so well? Because I lived them. I was truly present, not rushing around clicking with my iPhone.Would that image trigger the same reaction if it was on my IPhone? Probably not. And certainly, I would not relive those memories so often, because it would be buried in a folder somewhere between a picture of my passport (I can’t even remember why I took that!)  and a picture of the tag of a sheep that I had to give medication to.

Important moments in our lives deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be remembered often. And that means they deserve a place on our wall, not buried somewhere on a hard drive or photo app.


Why Selfies don’t work for profile pictures

Those who have been following my social media posts over the months will know that I am not a fan of using selfies anywhere in your business. I love my smart phone and I use it for photography all the time. There is no doubt that you can create amazing images with your phone, and of course the huge advantage is that normally you will have your phone with you. It is a very true saying that the best camera is always the one you have with you!

So why do I dislike selfies? Firstly I need to confess that both of the above images are ‘selfies’, in as far as they are both self portraits. The image showing me in the red T shirt was taken with my iPhone Pro 11 and the other was taken with a my professional Digital camera using professional strobe equipment. I hope you will agree that the second image is hugely better.

The first image is a particularly bad example but it serves to show some of the real shortcomings of an iPhone selfie, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU USE THE FRONT FACING CAMERA. There are problems with bad light, chimneys growing out of my head, a cluttered background, two days of stubble (this was taken to represent a really bad selfie) BUT even when you take those things away, the iPhone  camera has some really significant drawbacks.

1. Distortion


Here is a (slightly) better selfie. Still has a cluttered background but the light is even and at least I had a shave! Take a look at the distortion though. The front facing camera of my iPhone is extremely wide angle (23mm equivalent). A wide angle lens, when used close to the face will cause the closest objects (my nose) to appear larger. That is why a photographer will use a longer lens (80mm plus usually) to take a headshot. The result is more pleasing. Of course you can use this distortion to create ‘artistic’ shots but my nose is big enough thank you, I don’t want it dominating my headshot.

There is of course a x2 lens on the back of the camera and that will take more pleasing selfies. The problem is that to do it yourself, you will normally have to use a mirror (everything will appear reversed - we see this all the time on FB) or get a friend to take the image (definitely the better option)

2. Size Matters


Let’s take a look at our lens on the iPhone. Can you see it? At the very top of the front screen just to the right of centre is a pinhead sized lens. It is truly remarkable the quality of images that can be produced through that lens but take a quick look above at a DSLR camera lens. There you have a collection of lens elements specifically designed to transmit light beams accurately into the (rather large) sensor in the camera. The light collection ability and quality of the resulting image is vastly superior.


3. Fixed Focus

Your front facing camera has a fixed focus point. This means that if you take a self portrait at arms length the focus will be good. If you move the camera further away, the focus will not be quite as sharp (e.g. using a selfie stick). Of course the lens on my DSLR has adjustable focus which can focus on the eye, creating tack sharp images.

Complaining about fixed focus is being really picky because actually a wide angle lens has a greater ‘depth of field’. And that is problem number three.


4. Depth of Field

Depth of field is just a technical term for how much of a picture (near to far) will be in ‘acceptable focus’. By acceptable focus we mean that it looks in focus to the naked human eye, without magnification. Ultra wide lenses have a greater depth of field. You may consider this to be a bonus but it isn’t always. If you are creating a fun photo of you and your friends who are behind you, this is a definite plus.

If you are trying to create a headshot for a profile picture, it helps to create an out of focus background, concentrating the viewer’s attention on your face (the subject of the photo). going back to the red shirt image above, if the house behind was completely out of focus, it would be a better image. Of course the modern iPhones have a ‘portrait mode’ which allows you to blur the background, this creates an acceptable background.


So in conclusion. I truly believe that iPhone selfies TAKEN WITH THE FRONT CAMERA will never be acceptable for business use. 


Can we take a decent headshot with our iPhone? Yes I believe we can, using the back facing lenses. I’m going to spend some time over the next few weeks exploring how we can improve the results we get from our iPhone, particularly for headshots.


Watch this space.



How to Look and Feel relaxed in your Headshots


One of the most common things I hear is “I hate having my photograph taken” or “I always feel awkward in front of the camera” 

First of all, that’s absolutely fine. Being in front of a camera doesn’t come naturally to most of us but there are a few things that can help you to look good in front of the camera


1.     First and foremost Relax before your shoot. Give yourself time beforehand to relax and unwind. Don’t try to fit a 15 minute headshot session between two stressful meetings. While we are on the subject of time, if you really want to come away with amazing headshots, book a longer session so you and the photographer can spent more time together. Whether you want to meditate or put on your favorite playlist, do something before your headshot session that will put you in the right headspace. You can even ask your photographer whether you can bring your playlist along with you.


2.     Engage with your photographer. You should already have an idea of what your photographer is like prior to your session. However, it can also help to ask them a few questions before your session begins to help you feel even more comfortable with them. 


3.     Don’t freeze. Your headshots are meant to tell a story so don’t feel like you have to freeze for several seconds as you wait for the camera to click. Move your head and shoulders and try out different poses as and when they feel right – your photographer will do the rest. And most importantly, don’t forget to breathe. Holding your breath will make you feel more anxious, which will show through in your photos. Listen to the instructions your photographer gives you. They may feel awkward but they will actually make a huge difference to the final images


4.     Think about your character. Because you want your headshots to reflect your character, it helps to repeat things out loud or in your mind that speak to your character. How do you want your audience to perceive you?  Friendly?  Trustworthy?  Empowered? That’s how you need to feel. If that means doing some power poses before the session, fine. Also make it clear to your photographer what you want your headshots to convey. That will give them a starting point for guiding your poses and expressions


5.     Dress accordingly. Your headshot session is not the time to try a new outfit or hairstyle. You want to look and feel good, but you want to be comfortable too. This will help you feel more confident and relaxed for your photos.


There you have it – 5 basic tips that will help you have a more positive headshot experience. Don’t forget to have fun! Your photographer knows what they are doing. 

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