Photo-Taking Impairment Effect

‘Two Boats’, Lodore Landings, Derwentwater, Cumbria
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, EF17-40mm f/4L @ 17mm, 6 seconds @ f/22 ISO50
LEE 2-stop ND Grad and 3-stop ND filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Photoshop.

“There has never been a better time to be a landscape photographer.”

Photo-Taking Impairment Effect

Researchers have found that using a camera to capture an event for posterity impairs our recall, because we don’t see it or remember it as well as we would do without a camera in front of our face. The phenomenon is known as ‘photo-taking impairment effect’. This month’s image was captured almost nine years ago, in 2005. What seems amazing, is that I can remember shooting these boats as clearly as if it were only yesterday, and I’m not known for my good memory. The researchers may be correct if we consider the effect of taking snapshots of more ephemeral moments, like a child blowing out the candles on their birthday cake. However, for landscape photography, I have no doubt that being there ‘in the moment’ has the opposite effect; spending time, as we do, to drink in the light, the colours, the smells and sounds, the ‘spirit of place’, creates much stronger memories than if we were more casually engaged without our camera. Then there are all the compositional considerations required before we finally capture our image. Successful framing and composing of a landscape photograph requires our complete attention as a minimum and some landscape photographers would go much further, seeking an almost spiritual engagement and resonance with their surroundings.

When I made this image, I was becoming obsessed with landscape photography and had invested in the best gear I could afford, in an effort to ensure optimum image quality. Unfortunately, I had not invested as much effort in understanding the technicalities. I knew nothing of how diffraction limits image quality at the smallest apertures like f/22; and I used to think ISO50 would produce superior quality images compared to the native ISO of 100, because that was certainly true when using film: it doesn’t. In my defence, I only had a single 3-stop neutral density (ND) filter, but I could have used the dark top half of my 3-stop ND grad as a make-shift additional 3-stop ND, to force the same water blurring six second exposure at a more desirable f/11 and ISO100. Fast-forward to 2014, and LEE have recently introduced the 6-stop ‘Little-Stopper’, unsurprisingly the latest ‘must-have’ accessory in the landscape world, and an answer to our prayers in twilight situations like this. As time goes by, our choice of equipment widens and continually improves, helping us to keep losing ourselves in moments like this. There has never been a better time to be a landscape photographer.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.