Can Learning Digital Photography Make You Smarter?

There’s a lot of facets to learning digital photography from learning the camera to post processing and conquoring your editing flow.  Lots to remember for sure, but very rewarding when you get it right.  But did you know that learning and practicing digital photography is good for your brain?

I know this to be true because of my personal journey with digital photography.

Throughout my life, my father has always been my photographic mentor. He put a camera in my hand when I was about five and encouraged me to play with it, and make it a part of my life, and I did!

Jansen Photo Expeditions

I was 6 in this picture on my first photo expedition to Japan. See Mt. Fuji in the distance?

Discussions around the dinner table were about photography composition, Ansel Adams and the importance of leaving nature untouched.  It was important not to move a rock, a leaf or a flower when creating a photographic composition. My father took photo workshops from Ansel Adams in the 1960’s, and was very influenced by the iconic photographer.

Ansel Adams Photo Workshop June 1965.

Holden Higbee during Ansel Adams’ Photography Workshop June 1965

When digital photography was first in its baby stages, my Dad gave me a 2 megapixel camera. 

2 megapixel!  Wow, that was pretty impressive just to be able to take a digital picture at all, and I had to figure out how to get it into the computer and then work out the post processing and editing. I was in my 30’s and I thought my head was going to pop!

I was more motivated than most, because I had a long history of photography, and wanted to conquer this digital thing.  I wanted to learn to process and edit myself, as I wasn’t into being in a dark room by myself surrounding and immersing myself in toxic chemicals.  And so my digital photography journey began, thanks to my father.


Macro Photography Study During Ansel Adams’ Photo Workshop, June 1965.

Today he is in his mid 90’s and is in pretty good health and mind.  As I have watched him age, I marveled at the fact that he stayed active with his digital photography, shooting, creating slide presentations, and teaching to his peers.  I always thought there was something about his activity and this process that was keeping him sharp and on track.  I never put much thought into it until I read this study from the University of Texas on digital photography and aging.

During the University of Texas Synapse Study, scientists studied 6 groups of individuals aged 60 – 90 and gave them specific subjects to study over a 10 week period.  One group studied digital quilting, another studied digital photography and the other groups participated in a variety of social activities.

The conclusive results overwhelmingly show that digital photography was the best activity to participate in for aging baby boomers interested in maintaining their cognitive health and memory.

A marked improvement was found in semantic and conceptual processing as well as visual imagery. –  Everyone I know is interested in that don’t you think?

Why did digital photography come up so high in this study?  First of all, photography takes a lot of different skills to be successful.  (I’m not just talking point and shoot here.) One reason is it uses the creative side of your brain as well as the technical and memory side.

How does it use some many brain functions?  Here’s an example of the steps to go through to create a high quality image.

First, you need to think about the composition of your image and how it is going to look. (It’s very hard to “engineer” a creative image. A + B = C does not get you a good photograph).

Then you need to think about what you are shooting and what type of exposure will produce the shot you are imagining.  You need to know how to use the features on the camera so that it will get the shot you have in your mind’s eye.  Now that we have conquered the technical aspect of knowing the functions of the camera.  Now you have taken the shot, what’s next?

Next you need to bring it into post processing.  Whether or not you are using Photoshop or Lightroom, you still need to have some technical ability in the computer.  All of these activities together require memory, creativity, and cognitive abilities to perform these tasks correctly.

What does that mean for you?  It means digital photography is an activity that that is fun, creative, and good for your heart as well as your mind (and clinically proven).

Sounds good to me!

There are tons of classes and workshops that challenge you to create great photos while getting outdoors and experiencing some iconic natural scenes.  We offer workshops that will bring you to some of the most beautiful areas in the Western United States. Join us on a workshop to Big Sur, Yosemite National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Eastern Sierras or Iceland this summer.  Wherever you decide, we hope to see you there. Let’s get out there and shoot!

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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Co-Owner and Workshop Leader at Jansen Photo Expeditions
I am a passionate photographer and workshop leader, and I have been exploring my fascination with light since I was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, I love taking our small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join us on one of our photographic workshops in the American West, Iceland and Central America: or take one of our online photography classes.  Live life creatively!  Reach me by email at:
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  • I hear my boomer friends joke about their brains slowing down all the time and it sounds like we could all use photography in our lives. Who knew?