What Is A Memorable Photo?

A memorable photo is worth remembering, especially because it’s special or unusual. But what makes us remember one photo more than another?

Tank Man, Jeff Widener, 1989, Memorable Photo
Tank Man, Jeff Widener, 1989, Memorable Photo

People find many different photographs to be memorable. Memorable photos are images that we can recall in vivid detail and think about over and over again. But we don’t do that for all of the images we see, just certain ones for different reasons.

This is part 1 of a 7 part series about memorable photos

Historical Photos

When doing a Google search for memorable or famous photos, a lot of the same photos come up on various websites. Most of them are memorable because of the historical moment they represent which are often tragic moments. Some of the most popular photos that millions of people remember are “tank man in China,” “the Earth from the moon,” “John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father at his funeral,” “the migrant mother,” “the sailor kissing the nurse after WWII,” and “Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston”.

These images have been seared into our consciousness because they represent iconic moments in history. They are reproduced and displayed in classrooms, documentaries, news articles, and books. The images also teach us about humanity and our history. These photos are remembered because of the very special circumstances that surround them and how often people are reminded of them. 

Family Photos

Those aren’t the only memorable photos though. Those are photos that we collectively as a society remember. There are other memorable photos that very few people have seen, that are unremarkable in quality and historical significance. These photos are typically family photos that represent a significant moment in that particular family’s history. It could be the last time a person spent with a loved one, the birth of a child, and a wedding portrait with the whole family in it. 

These kinds of photos are also easily remembered because of the joy they bring us in our own individual lives. However, one of the unique things about family photos is the quality of the image has little impact on how memorable it is. It could even be a blurry photo but if it captures that time grandma was laughing two days before she passed away, you won’t forget it. Over time our memories and photos can become one and the same.

Photos can be memorable because of what is missing in the photo or the false reality the photo represents. For example, an outside person can view a photo of a dad sitting happily at a table eating dinner with his son as a sweet memory. But to the son, it represents the dad he wished he had, a father that was present and happy. But in reality, after years of abuse, his father abandoned the family when he was still a child. That photo represents not a memorable moment, but a lie, a lie he wished was true. Those kinds of images have a huge impact on whether we remember them or not. 

Other Memorable Photos

There are many other types of scenarios that make a photo memorable. But the main two are historical significance and family history. Artistic, scientific, nature, and travel photos of faraway places can also be memorable. These images become part of our individual memories in numerous ways. 

Given these points, the thing to understand about memorable photos is to know that they are photos easily recalled from your memories. In light of this, next time a photo comes into your mind, think deeply about it, and ask yourself, “Why do I remember this photo?”

Memorable Photos Series

There are many dimensions to understanding what makes a photo memorable. Such as technological, artistic, psychological, cultural, and physiological dimensions.

I’m going to make this a 7 part series where I explore and research what it takes to create memorable photos. I will also discuss an additional theory I have on what makes photos more memorable than others.

With this in mind, I will answer these seven questions:

  1. What is a memorable photo? We will view and discuss some of the photos that are considered memorable.
  2. What types of photos do people remember the most? This post will explore the research that has revealed the types of photos that people remember most.
  3. What are the composition techniques used in memorable photos? I shed light on the most popular composition techniques photographers leverage in memorable photos.
  4. What connects people to a photograph? For a person to remember a photo, they have to connect to it.
  5. How does the tone of the image affect memorability? Apart from the subject matter and composition, tonality also affects how we remember photos.
  6. What is visual teleportation in photography? This is a theory I have on what else makes a photo memorable.
  7. What techniques do photographers use to make memorable photos? We will learn the various techniques that well-known photographers employ that we can also use.

Leave a comment letting me know what are some of the photos you remember most.

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