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What Makes a Photograph Memorable?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the internet-memes dept.

Graphics 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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60 comments

one word (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333618)

tits

Re:one word (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333954)

eh, most tit pics are forgettable. But you'll never forget goatse, tubgirl, or lemon party!

Re:one word (1)

hellop2 (1271166) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335640)

So glad I never watched tubgirl or lemonparty. As far as goatse.... Thanks slashdot!

Yeah - "one word": meh (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335688)

Oddly, these Internet memes don't seem that bad, with the mellowing of time. Here is what I think of them now...

tubgirl: blow up dolls are funny
lemonparty: reminds me of Barney Frank
goatse: what is the medical term for that?


Eh, YMMV.

Re:one word (1)

kmoser (1469707) | more than 3 years ago | (#36345504)

You seen two, you seen 'em all.

Short answer (0)

kehren77 (814078) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333628)

Boobs.

One thing (1, Informative)

jbonomi (1839286) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333640)

Exposed breasts

Re:One thing (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333702)

...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 sitting on my NAS. Haven't looked at it in at least six years. I can tell you there's a can of Mountain Dew, logo clearly facing the camera, sitting approximately three inches to the forward/right quadrant of a grey, two-button wheel mouse. A circular glass ashtray, six inches in diameter, sits behind the keyboard, overflowing with the butts of Djarum Black. And my caps lock key is on. ...Maybe this has to do with 'color, or the distribution of edges'. But seriously, I'm much better at remembering completely boring and random scenery than I am people. Especially women. I tend to remember women in pictures as idealized versus the actual photography. Wait, maybe my memory is like Photoshop, rather than faulty. :P

Re:One thing (1)

UBfusion (1303959) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335920)

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.

What makes a photograph memorable? (2)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333658)

Appearance of Forrest Gump is undoubtely a plus.

ob (4, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333660)

An unfeasibly large anus.

Re:ob (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333682)

Oh god... it haunts me to this day.

Re:ob (2)

condition-label-red (657497) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334364)

Oh god... it haunts me to this day.

Me too, and I have managed to avoid seeing it for years now. Once was enough!

Re:ob (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333708)

Hilarious to think that this is on-topic. I wonder if "shock value" is included in the algorithm in any way. The image to which the parent refers ranks up their with that napalmed kid from Vietnam, and the other guy who got executed. Obviously, "memorable" doesn't mean "want to be remembered".

well that was a waste (0)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333692)

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.

Re:well that was a waste (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333802)

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 like a Sony Powershot or something, they have amazing colors!

Re:well that was a waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334004)

"amazon mechanical turk" - haven't they already proved that there is a very strong selection bias introduced by using that kind of service?

there it is the study fault, right at its beginning.

they just shown that underpaid, unemployed Asian sweat workers are better at remembering closed spaces. which has some kind of logic, and yet shows nothing useful.

Re:well that was a waste (2)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334070)

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 able to recognize it without effort...you need to remember unimportant things like that in order to navigate places you've been to before, even if these places are completely uninteresting.

My field of work has nothing to do with this, so I may be off in this belief, but I would expect humans who live their lives in less urban settings to have an easier time remembering pictures of natural landscapes. We've trained ourselves to navigate supermarkets, but for most of us, a bunch of trees are just a bunch of trees. Those who actually can navigate the woods without getting lost probably have trained their brain to pay more attention to the differences, and thus should be able to remember if they've seen a picture of a particular natural landscape vs another far more easily.

Re:well that was a waste (1)

mikael (484) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334646)

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 decides to rearrange the layout and suddenly everything has been reshuffled around. Sometimes the store managers have to send out Sherpa guides to help shoppers find what they are looking for.

Boobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333706)

Boobs. Lots of boobs.

The presence of 503 errors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333710)

"Service unavailable" is burned into my head forever.

Easy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333724)

Cute, pink-haired cat-girl [animeclick.it] .

oh wow (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333732)

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?

Re:oh wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333980)

Without knowing how seriously you take them now and what you use the research for, it is unlikely that any of us can provide you useful advice on such a question.

Or maybe you are one of those people that think statistics is counting?

Re:oh wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334074)

MIT-level rearch? C'mon, I thought /. readers considered research objectively, not by brand.. (I noticed the irony in my statement regarding "/. readers" as soon as I typed it.)

Re:oh wow (1)

mikael (484) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334662)

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.

Landscapes are less memorable than people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333738)

This study done by 80 year old grandmas that drag out their fucking cameras every time family gets together for any damn reason yet if they take a trip around the world it's just head shots of who they traveled with in front of nondescript backgrounds.

strange study (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (3, Interesting)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:strange study (2)

Ruke (857276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334322)

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 in the moment.

Regardless of how you want to define "memorability", I'm willing to cut the researchers some slack on this one. They laid out their terms and definitions beforehand, and it's likely that any misunderstandings are more the fault of the media, trying to turn this into a story, than the scientists doing the actual research.

Re:strange study (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36335282)

While I'm not an English speaker, seems like memorable can take two definitions: worth remembering and easy to remember.

I'd say the latter one (which seems to be the one from the study) would be more like memorisable.

In any case, I was expecting "worth" rather than "easy", and therefore I have to admit, it's easier to keep in mind those pictures with fewer countable objects. Either a person floating in a colorful ball pool, or a picture of an apple or an orange. Landscapes, and beautiful sunsets may have many components such as clouds, trees, grass that make them harder to remember or fuzzy.

Obvious (2)

slinches (1540051) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Obvious (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#36336296)

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 person to person. It be like having one music station on the assumption everyone likes the same things. Of course, in music, the trends are towards individualization (lastfm, pandora, slacker, etc) rather than generic top 10 lists.

And while the last top 10 photos on reddit may amuse me for a minute, I simply don't remember them 10 minutes later. Maybe it's just all media overload.

Phoebe Cates, ... (1)

WebManWalking (1225366) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333776)

getting out of a pool, ...

Facebook?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36333784)

"Researchers believe the algorithm may be useful to (...) anyone trying to decide which of their vacation photos to post on Facebook"
WTF? Do people really need an algorithm to decide that? Post what's interesting or what you WANT people to see... duh!

-Boll

Re:Facebook?? (1)

Ruke (857276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334384)

Come on, you know that this was done as "pure science," and that the justifications were tacked on at a later time. I worked in a research lab over a summer studying machine learning as applied to conversational branching in natural language processing. The specific problem I was working on had to do with picking cost-evaluation algorithms which would allow for a fully expressed Markov tree, while minimizing the solution space - so, almost nothing to do with NLP at all. You can bet that when someone who knew nothing about my research asked what I did, I came up with some lame "real world" application, instead of taking a few hours to discuss the nuances of machine learning, and why it was terribly interesting that a Monte Carlo algorithm could eventually stumble upon a solution in very specific circumstances where Q-Learning never would.

Associative memory (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333840)

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.

Re:Associative memory (1)

jaroslav (467876) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333892)

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.

Area of central focus (4, Interesting)

CrowdedBrainzzzsand9 (2000224) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Area of central focus (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335366)

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.

More miss than hit (1)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 3 years ago | (#36333878)

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.

Susan sontag (2)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (3, Interesting)

jaroslav (467876) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Advertisements (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334494)

Ain't nobody gonna buy a dozen Goatse brand doughnuts no matter how memorable the marketing.

Re:Advertisements (1)

manwargi (1361031) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334814)

What about Tubgirl brand butterscotch?

Re:Advertisements (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36336266)

Lemonparty (tm) branded lemons! I hear they make the best lemonade.

What makes a photo memorable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334264)

Easy. Scarcity. Pictures used to mean more back when we didn't have hundreds of them. That one lone photo of a vacation somewhere represented the entire trip. You would look at it and it would dredge up all the memories. Now you have pictures, postcards, even video of a trip. There is just so much of it that you never even look at most of it again. Is it really any wonder it isn't as memorable?

Defining novelty (2)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Defining novelty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36339378)

Is this a joke? This sounds like you poured a bunch of words into one of those po-mo essay generators.

Re:Defining novelty (1)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 3 years ago | (#36339774)

No, it's not a joke, and I'm trying to build AI systems that can handle such things. Before one does that, you have to bridge the gap between the humanities and computing. Hence there IS a need to define the psychology of this, and the mechanisms. No, I'm not a po-mo poser, this stuff is central to solid definition. The domain is psychology, art, literature and explanations are grounded in their frameworks. Unless you'd rather define novelty in C++. Which I'd be impressed with.

other use = Marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334550)

This seems very applicable to marketing and commercials. Now they can engineer a way for their product to stay stuck in my head.

Duh (1)

TheBrutalTruth (890948) | more than 3 years ago | (#36334832)

Boobies! And no, not the jiggly kind. I mean the bird, you perverts.

A different kind of psuedoscience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36334854)

This is not the first its kind out there. In Siggraph 2008, a paper claiming to measure how beautiful a face is. In Eurographics 2011, a paper claim to measure how good a facial makeup is.

The goal of such research is always to quantify something subjective (such as beauty, memorability, etc.). The general pattern of such kind of research is to first gather data through some kind of user study, then extract some potential features that could be used to explain the data, and lastly use machine learning to determine which feature or features best explain the data, then publish! The method looks scientific, and it seems our day-to-day intuitions can be explained based on scientific models. It is also very hard to argue they are wrong. There is no way to evaluate their result unless you do a separate user study, which most of us lack the time and money to do. Since the presented results match our intuition and make sense, these research are often given good reviews.

However, I want to raise the question: What is the point of such kind research!? This research does not give any new information except make us aware of our intuitions. Does it confirm our intuition is correct? No. Does it explain why our intuition is the way it is? No. Can the scientific model used in the general case? In this case, can an advertiser really use this algorithm to pick an ad that is more memorable? I doubt it. My reasons are the following

1. The data are noisy.
2. The study simply reveals a correlation, not causation.
3. The model is quite limited: many important things are not taken into account such as image composition, familiarity of the scene, etc.
4. The features that could explain the data are hand-picked by research, which means it is perfectly possible for a different set of features to explain the data just as well or even better, but those features are not tested in this research.
5. Machine learning typically only yield an over-fitted solution due to repeat usage of the testing set.

It might be a bit harsh to say such research is a waste of time and money. At least for me, it seems like just a different kind pseudoscience.

Blue Marble. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36335444)

Satisfies none of the listed criteria, does it?

Goatse (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36335962)

caused a buffer overflow

This (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36340840)

Error 503 Service Unavailable

Service Unavailable
Guru Meditation:

XID: 258827006

Varnish cache server

Data shows a pattern (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36359218)

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 "objects" as life demands a high ability to detect objects and we do so with corners. The more unterminated edges, the less we can trust that we see "objects" rather than just data, so it's thrown-out as noise.

The formula should be easy to test:
1. Edge detect
2. "Walk" edges: remember ones that don't split, end, or considerably change direction (circles ok) in 5px (appropriately scaled)
3. Of all the #2 found edges, mark those that touch edges
4. Memorability = [ #2 (all) - #3 ] / #3

Let me know how it goes...

Pattern Found (1)

snadrus (930168) | more than 3 years ago | (#36359238)

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 "objects" as life demands a high ability to detect objects and we do so with corners. The more unterminated edges, the less we can trust that we see "objects" rather than just data, so it's thrown-out as noise.
The formula should be easy to test: 1. Edge detect 2. "Walk" edges: remember ones that don't split, end, or considerably change direction (circles ok) in 5px (appropriately scaled) 3. Of all the #2 found edges, mark those that touch edges 4. Memorability = [ #2 (all) - #3 ] / #3

Let me know how it goes...
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