Less is More: Avoiding Photo Overload

Recently my teenage niece informed me that Polaroid cameras are making a comeback! I knew that vintage or 60's edit techniques were among the many photo editing options for our digital photos and the choices to change the look of photos are numerous. So if we can make them look this way why would this upcoming generation want Polaroids back? What do they possibly have on digital cameras, scanners, photo editing software, high-end home printers and endless ways of storage – whether through 128MB thumb-drives or cloud storage on the web? The answer is coming…


I was asked recently to teach a photography class to my son's yearbook students. I have been taking photos all my life and started off with a 50mm Pentax camera, and of course everything was manual. I learned how to take a great photo through reading magazines, working with a photo journalist, reading up on it in the library (all before the internet). I growled often (still do) at bad photography when I worked in photo developing too – reams of photos on a roll (when you only had 24 or 36 chances!) that were poorly composed.


Okay, I thought, people would rather take 10 photos of the same image and rely heavily on the camera doing the work for them than learn how to get the one that they will love ( and keep!) on the first try. So my goal was to teach the students in my son's group that the more photos you take the more you will have to spend time sifting through them to edit and find the best one! This was not appealing to them. I don't think they had ever actually thought that all the great software, technology and storage capability of our day was a 'make work' project in disguise! It was a lightbulb moment.


But what if I gave them a polaroid, they got one chance to compose the photo, and SNAP. You'd want to know a thing or two about taking a good shot first. Needless to say, the principal was happy to hear me say that they HAVE to avoid photo overload because they just won't have the time. We covered 10 tips to take a good photo without ever having to edit them later. Hence you eliminate the need to save so many too. And that's what the grown-ups need.


So, Polaroids are coming back. They have the KISS appeal. Keep it simple…

Could it be that the upcoming generation is getting screen time overload? Maybe the ability to skip all the tech steps, print an attractive photo that they can have in their hand in seconds is cool! Perhaps this is a way for them to avoid the mounting stress of photo overload! But they won't know it can be any different unless we tell them.


The only thing they need to do is slide that one, very well composed shot into an album and presto: Personal History!


Think this can't be done? It may be an unstoppable train of data coming at us but it's not impossible to change the train's direction. I had the pleasure a few months ago of documenting a couple's travels to three different countries in a video slideshow. They received two DVD's each an hour long with a custom soundtrack to match the feel of the locations. They loved it! But what I, as a personal historian and photo editor was thrilled about was that this couple took photos the 'old school' way. He handed over his SD cards and I thought, “Oh no. Now time to sift through 1000's of the same thing and pick the best one.” Guess what. No repeats. Nothing. Every shot was in a new location, documented a new memory, was composed beautifully with care. What a joy to make those DVDs!


The question we're all asking is “Will our digital photo/video/storage overload hurt our ability to save or tell our stories later?” Sadly, yes, I think it will. The stories will be there but they will be buried in convoluted collections of repetitive shots. And if our increasingly short attention spans are any indication of the future generations' I doubt our descendents will appreciate that we left them to sort and sift through our photos trying to find the memories that really mattered to us.


We have embraced the “more and faster is better” ideology with gusto. Short of becoming a Polaroid Sales rep, I am on the bandwagon of “slower, educated (about taking a photo) and less” is best. I don't think I am depriving my kids of their history either. It is up to us to teach what a great shot is and if I can teach 30 twelve year olds in 45 minutes then we can pass this gem of knowledge to the generations coming before they take that shot with their high-tech polaroids.


Just like it's up to us Personal Historians to convince the elderly to preserve their heritage in preservable or high tech ways so their families can enjoy it from all over the globe, so it is our calling to guide the younger generations not to make the same mistakes we did. More and Faster and Bigger is not better.