09 June 2023

The Photo View

Welcome back. Do you take lots of photographs? I used to. Selfies? My photo heyday was long before selfies or digital cameras (see P.S.). Do you post your photos on social media, such as Instagram?

I ask because a recently published study examined photo perspective, comparing “first-person” photographs that capture the scene as the photographer sees it, with “third-person” photographs that capture the scene with the photographer in it, i.e., selfies.

First-person photograph of beach and ocean (from www.planetware.com/virginia/top-rated-beaches-in-virginia-us-va-141.htm).
Earlier research suggested that third-person photographs (selfies) do a better job of depicting the meaning of events, while first-person photographs favor the physical experience of events. For example, visiting the beach with family, you take a photograph of the ocean to capture the physical experience of the day; you take a selfie to capture the bigger meaning of being with family.

Taking a third-person photograph (“selfie”) (from www.freepik.com/premium-photo/family-taking-selfie-photo-beach-family-beach-vacation_5294091.htm).
Six-Part Study
The researchers conducted a six-part study to test the goals and consequences of taking first-person and third-person perspective photographs. Each part had different participants, in all a total of 2,113.

At the time of the work, the researchers were affiliated with Ohio State University and the University of Waterloo. The lead researcher is now a postdoctoral scholar with Germany’s University of Tübingen.

The participants read a brief note that photographers might want to capture the physical experience or the meaning of the moment. They also read instructions about first-person and third-person perspectives. Participants for the first three of the six parts then read hypothetical scenarios for taking a photograph.

Part 1: For each scenario, participants rated the importance of the activity’s experience and the importance of the activity’s bigger meaning. They were then asked whether they would take a first-person or third-person photograph for the scenarios.

Part 2: Participants were randomly assigned three scenarios to capture the physical experience of the moment and three scenarios to capture the meaning of the moment. They were then asked whether they would take a first-person or third-person photograph for the scenarios.

Part 3: The hypothetical scenarios were similar to those in Part 2 but about other people, with other objects and backgrounds.

Part 4: Participants viewed 5 or 10 of their most recent Instagram photographs, indicated the perspective of each and reported whether each made them think about the physical experience or the meaning of the moment.

Part 5: Extending the finding of Part 4, participants were tested on whether the goal of capturing meaning or physical experience caused them to use third-person or first-person photographs.

Part 6: Participants were instructed to open their most recent Instagram post, share a photograph, and answer whether they were trying to capture the physical experience or meaning of the moment. They then rated how well they did, whether the photograph was first- or third-person and how they now felt about the photograph.

Wrap Up
Overall, the study not only provides insight into decisions people make about an inherent dimension of their personal photographs but also suggests consequences of the decision.

Part 1: The importance of how participants viewed the meaning (or physical experience) of hypothetical events predicted the likelihood of taking third-person (or first-person) photographs.

Parts 2 and 3: Demonstrated how the goal of capturing meaning (or physical experience) caused participants to favor third-person (or first-person) photographs.

Part 4: Viewing their photographs on Instagram, participants reported that third-person (or first-person) photographs reminded them more of the meaning (or physical experience).

Part 5: Given the goal to choose photographs that capture meaning (or physical experience), participants were more likely to select their third-person (or first-person) photographs.

Part 6: The extent to which the perspective of photographs matched (or mismatched) the goal for taking the photographs predicted whether participants would like (or dislike) the photographs.

So, take a new look at your photos with my thanks for stopping by.

Study of photo perspective in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/19485506231163012
Ohio State news release of study: news.osu.edu/why-people-include-themselves-in-photos/

Selfie: An image that includes oneself (often with another person or as part of a group) and is taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks. The first-known appearance of "selfie" in written form occurred in 2002 on an Australian news website, but the word didn't see much use until 2012. By November 2013, selfie was appearing frequently enough in print and electronic media that Oxford Dictionaries (publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary as well as other dictionaries) chose selfie as its Word of the Year. Merriam-Webster

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