8 Reasons Psychologists Warn Not to Take So Many Photos

beautiful blogger kissing for selfie against pink

Do you take lots of photos on your smartphone? Then you may want to pay attention to the reasons why some psychologists have a problem with our photography habits | iStock.com/SanneBerg

We all take tons of photos on our smartphones. It almost seems crazy not to, given the high quality of the cameras that manufacturers are cramming into every high-end phone. Unfortunately, most of us are taking more photos than we can handle. We regularly wonder what we should do with all of our smartphone photos. And we struggle with the chore of deleting old ones to clear out storage space on our phones.

It turns out that drowning in photos or running out of storage space aren’t the only reasons you may want to take fewer photos. Over-documenting the antics of your adorable cat or photographing your daily latte doesn’t seem that harmful. And there’s pretty much no argument that will make a proud parent stop taking tons of photos of their child or children. If you don’t document those moments now, then you’ve lost your chance.

But there are actually a few solid reasons psychologists think you may want to take fewer smartphone photos — and it’s not because they’re worried about the state of your camera roll, or concerned about what happens when you’re close to running out of space on your phone. Check out the reasons why a variety of different psychologists have made a case against taking tons of smartphone photos. Their research may just be compelling enough to get you to put down the smartphone and give the camera app a rest.

1. Taking photos can impair your ability to remember what you saw

taking a photo of a city

You might think taking a photo will help you to remember something, but research has shown the opposite may actually be true | iStock.com

You might think taking photos when visiting a museum or going to a botanical garden will help you to remember what you saw, but research has indicated the opposite may be true. According to research by cognitive psychologist Linda A. Henkel, people experience a “photo-taking-impairment effect” when they photograph objects instead of simply observing them without photographing them. Study participants who were led on a tour of an art museum were directed to observe some objects, and to photograph others.

Henkel explains, “If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them.” However, all hope isn’t lost. Just take detail shots. Henkel found “when participants zoomed in to photograph a specific part of the object, their subsequent recognition and detail memory was not impaired, and, in fact, memory for features that were not zoomed in on was just as strong as memory for features that were zoomed in on.”

2. Taking tons of photos doesn’t help your kids form and process childhood memories

A person taking a picture of the sunset with an iPhone

It’s not just your memory that may be hampered by taking tons of photos. Your habit can affect your child’s memories, too | iStock.com/Jlende

Henkel isn’t the only researcher who has investigated how taking photos can influence our ability to remember. According to NPR, Maryanne Garry has researched the effect of photography on our childhood memories. She’s concludes people “are giving away being in the moment” and are paying less attention to what’s going on because they’re preoccupied with taking the photo. She says that’s a loss for parents who are doing the photographing, but also the kids who are in the photographs as well.

That’s because “parents are giving away some of their role as the archivist of the child’s memory,” and by doing so, “they’re giving away some of their role as one of the key people who helps children learn how to talk about their experiences.” As Henkel’s research demonstrated, counting on photos to do your remembering for you means you aren’t doing the cognitive processing to remember things on your own. The solution is to be more mindful when you’re taking photos in the first place — and to stop thinking of photos as memories.

3. Sharing too many selfies can damage your relationships with your friends

a man taking a selfie

Taking and sharing tons of selfies can undermine your relationships with your friends | iStock.com

We all know once you take a photo, the process doesn’t end there. The next logical step is to share your photo on Facebook or Instagram and Snapchat. And that can cause just as many problems as actually taking the photo. As researcher David Houghton tells the NY Daily News, people who post a lot of photos — especially selfies — to their social media accounts may be alienating their friends, their family members, and their colleagues. “People, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” Houghton reports.

He explains, “It’s worth remembering that the information we post to our ‘friends’ on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people: partners; friends; family; colleagues and acquaintances; and each group seems to take a different view of the information shared.” The upshot is people judge others who post tons of selfies. After all, psychologists have noted sharing lots of selfies can make you look like a narcissist or a psychopath. Posting too often, or sharing too many selfies, is a great way to irritate your friends — which can strain your relationships. 

4. If you’re taking tons of selfies, you’re probably overestimating how attractive and likable you are

young women taking a selfie

If you’re taking lots of selfies, you’re probably overestimating how attractive and likable you are — which isn’t a good look | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

Another thing researchers have reported about people who take a lot of selfies? They perceive themselves as more attractive and more likable than other people think they are. In one study, researchers “analyzed selfie-takers’ and non-selfie-takers’ perceptions of their selfies versus photos taken by others and compared these to the judgments of external perceivers.” They found that people who take selfies and people who don’t take selfies reported equal levels of narcissism.

But selfie-takers perceived themselves as more attractive and likable in their selfies than in photos taken by other people, while people who didn’t take selfies regularly viewed both kinds of photos equally. And the kicker? The researchers noted “external judges rated the targets as less attractive, less likable, and more narcissistic in their selfies than in the photos taken by others.” So if you’re taking a ton of selfies, you’re probably not only overestimating how good you look in those photos, but you’re probably making yourself look less likable to others. Ouch. 

5. Taking photos can make an experience more enjoyable — but only if it’s the right kind of experience in the first place

man photographing baby elephant

Taking photos can make some experiences more enjoyable, but not all | iStock.com/LiudmylaSupynska

A much-discussed study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found photographing experiences usually increases your positive feelings about them. But that’s only in specific circumstances. Study participants who took photos of an activity reported being more engaged in that activity, which seemed to increase their positive feelings about the experience. But the same principle didn’t hold true when people were already engaged in the experience.

For instance, participants who were just observing an activity reported more positive feelings about it when they photographed it. But for participants who were already taking part in the activity, taking photos didn’t increase their enjoyment of the experience. Photo-taking also didn’t increase enjoyment of activities when the photographing interfered with the experience. (And we all know trying to capture the perfect shot can sometimes interfere with actually experiencing something.) Taking photos can also make an unpleasant experience even worse. The upshot? Taking photos can help you enjoy an event more — but only in specific circumstances. 

6. Photographing food all the time may be a sign of problems with your mental health

a woman taking a photo of a meal

An obsession with constantly photographing food may be indicative of a mental health issue you need to deal with | iStock.com/ymgerman

Some researchers determined that Instagramming your food can actually make it taste better. But according to Eater, other researchers have determined that for people with a predisposition toward unhealthy behaviors around food, taking photographs of food is correlated with mental illness. Not really the problem you were anticipating with those brunch photos, was it?

The fact that you’re photographing your food, not the people you’re with or the atmosphere of the restaurant, may indicate that food plays an excessively significant role in your life. In this case, it’s not really the photos that are the problem. But as with any behavior you find is becoming a particularly difficult habit to shake, it’s a good idea to evaluate what’s really going on.

7. We’re all seeing way too many photos every time we go online

girl makes self-portrait on the smartphone

We’re all exposed to way too many photos online, and taking tons of our own doesn’t help | iStock.com/Rohappy

Rebecca Macmillan reports for The Conversation that we’re exposed to photos online almost constantly, and researchers are “beginning to point to some of the unintended consequences of this ‘image overload,’ which range from heightened anxiety to memory impairment.” People feel overwhelmed by the number of photos they see and are addicted to posting their own photos for others to view. We see so many photos that it’s hard for us to remember any one, specific photo. And we dread organizing and culling the hundreds or thousands of photos we have on our devices.

According to Macmillan, researchers have determined “by always being tuned in and responsive to digital technologies, we become less aware of our surroundings. As our attention succumbs to the allure of being someplace else, our concentration suffers.” However, Macmillan notes taking photos via slower processes, like film cameras, and being more intentional about our attention can help. “With photo streams continuing to proliferate, greater self-awareness can counteract feelings of drowning amidst a flood of images.” 

8. Taking too many photos of your children can hasten self-awareness

young family taking selfie on the floor

Taking lots of photos of your children, and allowing them to obsess over those photos, can just hasten their self-awareness and self-criticism | iStock.com/shironosov

David Zweig reports for The New York Times that we should take fewer photos of our children. The reason why? It’s easy for kids to start obsessing with scrolling through photos of themselves. Children need to develop an awareness of themselves and how they relate to others. But researchers have noted children develop precocious self-awareness because they’re exposed to a lot of self-focusing stimuli, such as the photos we take with our phones and cameras and post online.

Zweig explains, “Like most everything, self-awareness is healthy in moderation, and problematic in excess. For adults excessive self-awareness has links to a host of ills from anxiety to vanity.” Being photographed and filmed constantly increases self-awareness — and with it self-evaluation and self-criticism. Children act differently when you’re filming or photographing them. So both experiences of being photographed and the act of viewing those photographs are making your kids extremely self-aware. Which is the opposite of what you want if you want them to stay kids.