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What Are The Types Of Photos People Remember Most?

The photos people remember the most have a lot to do with our psychology and our inner desires to connect with one another.

This is part 2 of a 7 part series about memorable photos.

We will see millions of images in our lifetimes. Our brains store a select few images that we can readily recall. We saw in the last post the images people remember most are historical or family photos. But there is something in common with almost all of those historical and family photos. Notably, they include fellow human beings in them.

According to extensive research on photo memorability done in 2011 by M.I.T., the types of photos people remember most are photos with people. Their research also revealed that the least memorable photos are landscape photos. They analyzed four different attributes that are well known in the world of photography and how those attributes correlate with the memorability of a photo.

Attributes People Remember

Popularity – The photos they used for their research were selected from Flickr. They compared the popularity of a photo, how many views it has, with how well it performed in their memorable tests. When looking at the comparison, the photos that were popular on Flickr also rated high in memorability. Popular photos are popular for a reason, they resonate with people to the point they remember the photo and share it with others.

Saliency – This is defined as the quality of being noticeable or prominent. They analyzed images that focused on a single object like a bowling ball or a car. These types of images actually rated very high in memorability. It appears that when an image draws people’s attention to a single object, they tend to remember that photo much more than photos with many objects and/or without a specific object to focus on.

Emotions – They also analyzed images of people expressing different types of emotions to see which emotions were most memorable in a photo. The most memorable emotion was amusement, but interestingly, negative emotions like disgust, fear, and anger were the most memorable after that. Photos with feelings of awe and contentment were less memorable. And images of people looking at peace were rated completely unmemorable. It Reminds me of all those “peaceful” stock photos that all seem to blend into each other creating a blob of meaninglessness.

Aesthetics – How pretty an image is, had no effect at all on how memorable or unmemorable the photos were.

Memorable vs Forgettable Photos

Images courtesy of the Oliva and Torralba labs, Types Of Memorable Photos
Images courtesy of the Oliva and Torralba labs

Above, is a series of memorable and forgettable photos from the study. The forgettable images are in the top row. The memorable ones are in the bottom row. 

Counter-Intuitive Photos

Their research also discovered that people rated counter-intuitive photos as memorable photos. These are the funny, awkward, or weird photos that we encounter that end up challenging the way we view something.

People In Historical Photos

Interestingly, famous historical photos that represent crucial times in history usually depict people participating in those historical moments. The photos usually either capture a tragic scene or extremely triumphant human achievement. They typically focus on a single person or well-known objects such as planet earth. Think about your family photos that you can remember off the top of your head. Are those photos of people experiencing some kind of emotion like amusement, joy, fear, or pride. 

To capture a historical moment, I must travel all over the world hoping to be at the right place and at the right time. Accomplishing that is very difficult for most people, even for well travelled photo journalists. When a historical moment will happen is usually unpredictable. But I can take photos of my family, friends, and others in my community that people will remember.

Generally, people love to see people and the things we make. Given these points, to help your photography gain more attention and be more memorable, try photographing people, interesting objects, and counter-intuitive images. 

What do you consider to be the most memorable photo you have ever taken?

Memorable Photos Series

Understanding what makes a photo memorable has many dimensions to it. There are technological, artistic, psychological, cultural, and physiological dimensions to photos. I’m going to make this into a 7 part series including this one because of how much there is to learn and write about on this topic.

I will explore and research what has already been learned about memorable photos. I will also discuss an additional theory I have on what makes photos more memorable than others.

The articles I write will answer these seven questions:

  1. What is a memorable photo? We will view and discuss some of the photos that are considered extremely 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.

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