Photos have great potential to add value to your life.
The ability to freeze a moment in time and revisit that moment again in the future is a wonderful idea made possible with imaging technology.
On top of that, we’ve seen smartphone cameras match or even exceed the image quality of traditional point-and-shoot cameras within the last decade.
And this is good news for minimalism since most people would agree that carrying one device instead of two is easier to manage.
The ubiquity of smartphone cameras and the abundance of digital storage space has allowed more photos to be taken than ever before. In 2015, the average person took 150 photos per month, while the average camera held 630 photos.
But taking so many photos has two common setbacks;
1. Your photo library can become cluttered with images that don’t necessarily bring you value
2. Your overall memory and mindfulness of your experiences can be weakened
Photos are not your memories
The idea of capturing and storing memories within images has been around for a long time.
It’s true that photos can be a great way to document certain areas of your life in visual format.
But more recently, it’s become increasingly common for cameras and photos to act more like external storage spaces to replace your memories.
Of course, logic would suggest that if you don’t want to forget something, then taking photos is the best way to help you remember and prevent your memories from fading away.
However a study in 2013 showed that taking so many photos actually weakens your memory and ability to recall details.
While cameras and photos may be good for some things, the reality is that they can never truly serve as your memory.
In the end, the only place where memories can be stored is within your mental space.
How photos could add value to your life
One thing I’ve learned about photos, is that the full value that they offer comes when they are shared.
Few people find value in taking photos purely for their own interests without the intent of sharing them.
Here are some ways sharing photos can bring you value;
• Sharing what you’ve experienced with others, even if they weren’t with you at the time
• Showing others your past, even if they didn’t know you back then
• Enhancing the stories you tell others and helping them to visualise the story you are telling
Now that we’ve discussed the reasons why you should and shouldn’t take photos, let’s talk about how you can make your photo collection simpler so that it can add the most value to your life.
Step 1: Let go of photos that just aren’t valuable
Have you ever tried to show a friend a photo, but took so long that the topic of the conversation shifted by the time you’ve found it?
Quite often, you’ll find photos in your collection that may have felt right to take at the time, but don’t necessarily bring you value in the long run. But the real problem with this occurs when the photos that don’t bring you value make it difficult find to the ones that do bring you value.
Take a look through your photo collection (whether it’s printed or digital doesn’t matter at this point). Are there any images that you don’t particularly feel proud of sharing? If you’re unsure, take a look through the list below and see if any of the points relate to any of your photos.
• Blurriness and lack of clarity (caused by movement and camera shake)
• Underexposure resulting in dark images with little detail (caused by lack of light)
• Heavy amounts of grain and noise resulting in poor image quality
• Awkward image composition that’s not too pleasing to look at (such as shots that aren’t straight)
• Duplicates and copies
If any of your photos match one or more of these descriptions, there’s a fair chance that you might not be too happy sharing them with others.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should become a perfectionist.
But if there are photos in your collection that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, you’d probably be better off letting go of them and giving your attention to the ones that you enjoy sharing.
When you reduce the amount of photos in your collection down to only the ones you find valuable, finding them becomes much simpler.
Step 2: Keep your photos in one place
When sharing photos, do you often have to jump from one folder to another, then to your Facebook and Instagram feeds before you finally find the one you want to share?
More often than not, it’s difficult to simplify your photos when they are scattered in different places. Having all of your photos in one place on the other hand, is far more simpler.
If there are any photos that you’ve posted on social media that you often like to share in person too, download them to keep with the rest of your photo collection.
Also, if you have unframed printed photos that you find valuable, I’d highly recommend scanning them so that you can keep them among any new digital photos you take.
Step 3: Secure your photos
As mentioned earlier, no amount of camera technology can truly replace the memories you experience.
That said, many people feel a great deal of worry and stress about losing their photos. And if your photos are currently adding a lot of value to your life, I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that way.
Many people use their smartphone as the sole place to store their photos.
And this makes sense for two reasons;
1. The overwhelming majority of photos are taken on smartphones making them the most convenient place of storage
2. Most people (myself included) carry their smartphone with them everywhere they go making it easy to share photos both online and in person at anytime
However, it’s also because we take them everywhere with us, that smartphones have a great risk of loss, theft and breakage.
Would you feel comfortable in that losing your smartphone would also mean losing all of your photos as well?
Most people wouldn’t and I’m guessing that you wouldn’t either.
This is why I wouldn’t recommend that you store your photos solely on your smartphone.
A better solution is to use cloud storage.
This way, you can access your photos from many different devices (including your smartphone) and even if you lose or break a device, you won’t necessarily lose your photos.
You have several options to choose from such as Apple’s iCloud Photo Library, Google Photos or Dropbox.
Remember, the goal of this is to relieve worry and stress over losing your photos. And the best way that I know to do that, is to reduce the risk of losing them as much as possible.
Step 4: Learn to take photos intentionally
Many people take several photos a day with little thought as to whether the moment is truly worth remembering or sharing.
Before you take a photo, here are some questions you should ask;
• Is this something I want to be reminded of in the future?
• Is this something my friends and family will find interesting?
• Will taking this photo help me tell my story later?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then there’s a strong chance that the photo will bring you value.
Likewise, if the answer is no for all of these questions, chances are that the photo won’t bring you much value. And if this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with choosing not to take a photograph and just enjoying the moment just for yourself.
While we’re on the topic…
Step 5: Learn to enjoy the moment without taking photos
Do you ever find yourself so distracted with the task of photographing, that you forget to enjoy what you’re experiencing?
Do you look at certain photos and struggle to recall exactly how you felt at the time?
While taking photos is a good way to share your experiences with others, it’s also important to balance photographing with savouring and mindfulness.
This means learning how to enjoy your experiences without taking photos (or at the very least, taking far fewer photos).
Naturally, this can feel uncomfortable if you’re used to taking a lot of photos. But it can also benefit you greatly in long run.
Memory is a muscle and the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Choosing to memorise your experiences (instead of photographing them) gives you the opportunity to strengthen your memory.
If you commit to savouring the present moment, in time you’ll be able to recall your experiences in much greater detail because your focus will be on the experience itself and not the act of taking photos (or videos).
Don’t pay good money to experience live music only to spend the entire time watching the show through your smartphone camera instead of your own eyes.
When photos bring you value
After you apply these steps, you’ll see an improvement in the way you deal with photos and the value they bring to you.
When the time comes when you want to share a photo, you’ll be able to find the right ones quickly while the conversation is still fresh.
You’ll have one less thing to stress over in your life since your photos will be nicely organised in one place and you don’t have to worry about losing them.
You’ll be more proud of your photo collection and sharing them will enhance the stories you tell to others.
And most importantly, you’ll know when the time is right to simply savour the moment and let the experience embed itself into your mental space.
Savour your experiences
Photos may be great reminders of your experiences.
But in order for them to help you relive your experiences, you have to have already lived them for yourself.
Craig Link is a minimalist and technology enthusiast with a passion for finding and sharing practical ways to live a simpler life with more time, money and energy for what’s most important to you.