The Impact of People’s Faces in Photographs

Walker Evans, photographer (American, 1903 – 1975), 6th Avenue / Forty-Second Street, 1929, Gelatin silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Walker Evans, photographer (American, 1903 – 1975), 6th Avenue / Forty-Second Street, 1929, Gelatin silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

When people see other people in photos it impacts them in a very different way than when they look upon photos that do not feature people. When people look at a face we automatically assign that face emotion and personality traits. According to studies, a face is judged instantly when it is seen. People immediately start judging how attractive, likeable or even aggressive the person is (Knight, 2013). 

Faces that are more likely to be remembered are faces that are distinct from typical or average people. Faces that look familiar can actually create false memories of familiarity. What are the traits that make some faces so distinct and memorable from faces that are very forgetable? Researchers at MIT discovered which traits in people’s faces help viewers remember those faces more distinctly. The top ten most common traits in memorable photos, from most to least memorable, are: irresponsible, kind, unhappy, atypical, trustworthy, unintelligent, unattractive, emotional, uncommon, and unfamiliar (Oliva, 2013).

Making photos of people is very challenging, making memorable photos of people is much more challenging. The above traits have proven that when people posses them in photographs, they tend to get remembered more. Learning how to capture those mentioned traits above in people, without insulting or harming them, will increase the impact your photos have on their viewers. 

Series on How to Make Impactful Photos

1. What is considered an impactful or memorable photo?
2. What makes a photo more memorable or impactful than another photo?
3. What are the key elements of a memorable photo?
4. What specific elements of a photo make it so memorable?
5. What is it about those elements that leaves such an impact on people?
6. How can a photographer make more photos that are memorable?
7. How can a photographer capture intensity in a photograph?
8. How do people’s faces affect the memorability of a photograph?

References:

Knight, H. (2013, December 24). MIT News Office. MIT News Office. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2013/never-forget-a-face

Oliva, A., Bainbridge, W. A., & Isola, P. (2013). The Intrinsic Memorability of Face Photographs. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 142(4), 1323–1334.

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