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Graphics Science Technology

What Makes a Photograph Memorable? 60

Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers have developed a computer algorithm that can rank images based on memorability. They found that in general, images with people in them are the most memorable, followed by images of human-scale space — such as the produce aisle of a grocery store — and close-ups of objects. Least memorable are natural landscapes. Researchers built a collection of about 10,000 images of all kinds for the study — interior-design photos, nature scenes, streetscapes and others, and human subjects who participated through Amazon's Mechanical Turk program were told to indicate, by pressing a key on their keyboard, when an image appeared that they had already seen. The researchers then used machine-learning techniques to create a computational model that analyzed the images and their memorability as rated by humans by analyzing various statistics — such as color, or the distribution of edges — and correlated them with the image's memorability. 'There has been a lot of work in trying to understand what makes an image interesting, or appealing, or what makes people like a particular image,' says Alexei Efros at Carnegie Mellon University. 'What [the MIT researchers] did was basically approach the problem from a very scientific point of view and say that one thing we can measure is memorability.' Researchers believe the algorithm may be useful (PDF) to graphic designers, photo editors, or anyone trying to decide which of their vacation photos to post on Facebook."
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What Makes a Photograph Memorable?

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  • one word (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward


  • One thing (Score:1, Informative)

    by jbonomi ( 1839286 )
    Exposed breasts
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...Are not that memorable to me, unless they're out of the ordinary in some way. Usually a bad way. I will never get the image of weird, concave-looking nipples out of my brain, no matter how much bleach I drink.

      I do wonder if there's a whole slew of fun we could discover with this, though. I suck at remembering people's faces; and I suck at accurately remembering images involving people.

      At the same time, I rule at 'other' things. For example, there's a picture of my desk from my apartment in college

    • I have no citation but I'd claim that non-exposed breasts are even more memorable, especially when they belong to a crush of yours or a celebrity you worship.

  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:09PM (#36333658) Homepage
    Appearance of Forrest Gump is undoubtely a plus.
  • ob (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:09PM (#36333660) Homepage Journal

    An unfeasibly large anus.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Oh god... it haunts me to this day.
  • they fscked that study up real good.

    personally I remember a really good sunset, or an awesome view of nature far more than I remember a friggin grocery store. heck there are two that I go into regularly and one I rarely go into and the one I rarely visit I can't find anything in it.

    human sized spaces aren't more memorable. what it contains and that means to the viewer is what is rememberable.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nonsense. It is widely known amongst the connaisseurs of fine art photography that Ansel Adams is a hack precisely because he never did any supermarket aisles. Seriously, who that guy thought he was? All high and mighty with his view camera and large format b&w negatives... well I got news for you pops! Only pretentious poseurs and high school emo kids and art school losers think b&w is artsy fartsy, to the rest of us is just pretentious self indulging tripe! Get with the program man. Time to get li

    • they fscked that study up real good.

      personally I remember a really good sunset, or an awesome view of nature far more than I remember a friggin grocery store. heck there are two that I go into regularly and one I rarely go into and the one I rarely visit I can't find anything in it.

      human sized spaces aren't more memorable. what it contains and that means to the viewer is what is rememberable.

      Part of it is due to a literal interpretation of the word "memorable". There's a difference between easy to remember, which is what they've measured, and deemed worthy of committing to memory, which is more a more arbitrary consideration. If you see images of a supermarket isle, it might be memorable in that you'll be able to tell you've already seen that picture, but it's not memorable in the sense that most people use the word. It's not that they deem the picture special, it's just that our brains are

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      As part of some personal projects for learning 3D modelling using Blender, I tried reconstructing the interiors of some places I had visited. Could easily remember those areas where I had walked through or sat down in, but anywhere more than three or more metres away, I couldn't remember.

      I guess if you were walking through a jungle trail, remembering the junctions on that trail would be more important that the surrounding vegetation.

      Though, many supermarket customers get really annoyed when the supermarket

  • Please don't tell me that entities selected through Amazon's Mechanical Turk pass for subjects in MIT-level scientific research. Should I start taking MIT less seriously?

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      If you want to anonymize the purpose of a psychological test, that would seem the perfect way to achieve that purpose.

      The population sample would be more varied that the usual method of asking for volunteers from the local campus with a reward of a $10 gift token.

  • strange study (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:24PM (#36333750)

    What a strange study. From the summary, the researchers sampled a group of individuals by presenting them with random photographs and rating not their _memorability_ but rather recall in asking them to press a key "when an image appeared that they had already seen". This is much different than what I believe makes a photograph memorable--which typically involves some sort of an emotional response to the subject in photograph. For instance, nature pictures taken on a journey to me personally would be very memorable--even though the study suggests otherwise.

    If you're in marketing and want people to "recall" your product, yeah sure, this study is relevant. But, it's sort of misleading labeling it memorable as it suggests an emotional response and this study does not address that.

    By the way, the definition of "memorable" is the quality of being worth remembering--very different from recall.

    • Re:strange study (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @06:56PM (#36334288)

      Yeah, I agree with you.

      Random anecdote: I used to go on week-long 50+ mile hikes in the NW's Cascade Mountain range with a group of friends. We used to tell newcomers - the scenery is breathtaking, but without people in the picture, it's not really all that interesting for other people, and won't be as memorable for you in the long run. In other words, don't just take scenery snapshots. Sure enough, the most interesting photo collections tended to be a good mix of scenery and everyday living conditions on the trail, but they almost ALL had human subjects in it.

      When you're up in the mountains, you stare at the scenery, but what's really memorable wasn't the scenery, it was being there and experiencing it with friends. I suppose the study was trying to hint at this in some way. As nice as beautiful landscape pics are, they are much less memorable to me than a photograph of me and my friends up on the top of a mountain. In general, people are more interesting to other people than just about anything else.

    • by Ruke ( 857276 )
      They do point out that they're measuring the "remember-ability" of an image, rather than the emotional response to an image:

      Landscapes? They may be beautiful, but they are, in most cases, utterly forgettable. “Pleasantness and memorability are not the same,” says MIT graduate student Phillip Isola [...]

      The "worth" in "Worth remembering" is also up for debate. If you look at it as an unconscious - rather than a conscious - evaluation of value, our brains are naturally predisposed to remembering images "worth" remembering. While an emotionally-charged photograph may be pleasant (or unpleasant), there may not necessarily be any value to remembering it, rather than simply experiencing it

  • by slinches ( 1540051 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:26PM (#36333756)

    Of course things with people and animals (or representations thereof) are more memorable than landscapes. Our minds have evolved to put greater emphasis on things that are a threat or opportunity. Besides, landscapes are generally classified as that only because they're outdoors and don't have any other distinguishing characteristics that would put it into another group.

    • Maybe things we are personally interested in are memorable. But that changes from person to person. If I have a certain hobby like cartoon like Futurama, I'll like pics/posters from characters from there more than a cartoon I don't watch, like family guy. I'm more probable to look at pics of my family than somebody else's family (although both probably bore me.)

      I have had more landscape backgrounds on my computer than of animals (and never people.)

      I think any algorithm is flawed, as this changes from per

  • getting out of a pool, ...
  • If that photo wasnt isolated, but associated with external ( sound, light, smell, etc) or internal (i.e. feelings, idea associations, complex toughts, etc) things, getting back those things will make easier to get back those photos.
    • Exactly! What this study ignores, consciously I'm sure, is the affective domain. They basically ask, "which of these image that you don't care about at all do you remember?" They don't ask, "which picture from you vacation is your favorite?"

      I think using the word "memorable" is slightly misleading for this reason, because memorable has a connotation that is much broader than merely "remembered". It implies that there is an emotional connection to something.

  • by CrowdedBrainzzzsand9 ( 2000224 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:46PM (#36333866)

    They should consult with more photographers. One thing is obvious: the most-memorable pictures have a central point of focus...something to grab your interest. The least memorable images in the TFA have nothing to grab your attention. That applies to a mixture of subject matter as well as a single subject, such as landscapes.

    The TFA gave short shrift to aesthetics, too--where in the photo the central point of focus most favorably may be placed, such as the Rule of Thirds and Golden Sections. These go back to Da Vinci...not new ideas.

    • That applies to a mixture of subject matter as well as a single subject, such as landscapes.

      Quite so - a stroll through an Ansel Adams [anseladams.com] gallery will show strong subjects in most of the landscape, whether it's a group of ferns with different light, a group of aspens that jumps out from the background with careful exposure, or a just the Snake River, they all have something to capture the eye.

  • An algorithm is of mild interest, yet Van Gogh's Starry Night [vangoghgallery.com], a landscape, is far more interesting than his Starry Night Over the Rhone [vangoghgallery.com], a painting that includes a man and a woman walking arm-in-arm by the river.
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:49PM (#36333884)
    Said that one thing that makes a photo interesting is a pic of something common in one location, that is shown in another location where that thing is not common. There is no way an algorithm could describe that.
  • Advertisements (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jaroslav ( 467876 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @05:54PM (#36333916)

    Other criticism of the study aside, a group of people who might be interested in how well pictures are remembered after short glances are advertisers and marketers.

  • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @06:54PM (#36334272)
    I address this question in a (to be published) book on the psychology of entertainment where I explore the concept of novelty. Although mere newness is not enough to make something memorable, if something combines a strong design structure or a vivid one, and is both personally and culturally novel, its memorability is greatly increased. When we are young (immature experientially), almost everything is novel and gets consideration as we take in perceptions. Repeated patterns in the environment are assimilated into recognizers, so that we can detect what is unusual and possibly a threat. (Ie. that which is out of place invokes attention, leading to better chance of survival from potential threats.) I believe that the same mechanisms, with varied parameters, then serve multiple purposes including artistic perception. mechanics of reading, and so on. I am engaged in an ongoing effort to embed this principle in hybrid symbolic and neural recognizer systems, as part of a larger effort. Anyway, I leave the take-away point that memorability is a function of both perceptual system operation and interpretive deep systems drawing on culturebases, hence novelty and memorability is dependent on individual (per person) frameworks.
  • Any of them ironically labled..

    "Its not my weiner."

    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/123109063.html [jsonline.com]


  • Boobies! And no, not the jiggly kind. I mean the bird, you perverts.
  • caused a buffer overflow

  • memorability Looking at the images, there's definitely familiar objects helping recognizability, but I saw a much more computationally-easy pattern. Look at the edge detection results of the images. Now count the internally terminated edges (of some length at-least 5px on the thumbs) vs the "lines" that extend to the end of the image.

    Memorability = (internally-terminated edges) / (edges touching border)

    At a glance, this appears much more likely. Why? I think people put more importance on fully-framed

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court