Truly Capturing the Moment

When I was a kid, taking pictures was a big deal. You had ONE SHOT to get a picture right. Everyone had to stop moving, put on big smiles, and LOOK at the camera before it clicked. Once a the exposures on the roll of film were used, you had to wait for our film to be developed before seeing what the shot actually looked like. Photos were a lesson in delayed gratification.

Today, however, we can take as many pictures as we want (or as many as the storage on our phones will allow), all with a device that easily fits in our pocket. It seems that everywhere you go people have out their phones, taking pictures. Kids playing at the park while parents are taking pictures. A couple on a date taking selfies. Family vacation with grandma and grandpa, mom and dad snapping pictures of every activity. Special occasions . . . well, you get the point. People use pictures to “capture the moment” so that later they can look back and reminisce.

Did you ever wonder, though, if by trying to ensure we don’t forget anything, we are actually missing the chance to be IN the moment? Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel wondered if “documenting every moment might actually cause us to lose the very memories we long to immortalize” (2013). She decided to conduct a study to test her theory.

Henkel took a group of college students to an art museum; she asked them to photograph 15 works of art, while simply viewing another 15. When the students were tested on the artwork the following day, they remembered fewer of pieces of art they had photographed than the ones they had only viewed (Henkel, 2013). Interestingly, their memories of the photographed art held less detail than the viewed artwork, as well (Henkel, 2013).

Could it be that in our efforts to “capture the moment,” we are missing out on making meaningful, lasting memories?

  • If I attend a wedding and spend the whole time taking pictures and viewing the event “through my phone,” will I truly remember how radiant the bride looked or the way the groom got teary when he read his vows?
  • When I visit my grandparents and spend the time taking videos of them talking, will I be able to capture the feeling of my grandma’s hand holding mine, or the twinkle in my grandpa’s eye when he teases?
  • If I take my kids to the park and constantly ask them to pose for pictures, are they really playing? And am I adding to their joy and love of physical activity and the outdoors?

I think you can see what I’m getting at. Perhaps it’s time to put down our phones  more often than we pick them up, choosing to capture moments in our “minds eye” rather than on our cameras.

What do you think? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.


Henkel, L. A. (2013). Point-and-shoot memories: The influence of taking photos on memory for a museum tour. Psychological Science, 25(2), 396-402.

Winkler, E. (2014).  The science behind #ThrowbackThursday. The New Republic. Retrieved from