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Author Topic: What makes an image memorable?  (Read 6337 times)
dreed
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« on: June 03, 2011, 08:39:53 PM »
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Folks at MIT have been doing research into whether or not it is possible to algorithmically determine if a photograph is memorable:
What makes an image memorable?

From the web page:
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 actual research paper can be found at http://cvcl.mit.edu/papers/IsolaXiaoTorralbaOliva-PredictingImageMemory-CVPR2011.pdf

Anyone want to put bets on how long it will be before cameras come with internal algorithms to "rank" photos (using the research of this paper) as part of the photo taking process?
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2011, 10:30:29 PM »
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Folks at MIT have been doing research into whether or not it is possible to algorithmically determine if a photograph is memorable:
What makes an image memorable?

From the web page:
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 actual research paper can be found at http://cvcl.mit.edu/papers/IsolaXiaoTorralbaOliva-PredictingImageMemory-CVPR2011.pdf

Anyone want to put bets on how long it will be before cameras come with internal algorithms to "rank" photos (using the research of this paper) as part of the photo taking process?
I had no idea that Russ was doing research at M.I.T.!   Wink
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Rob C
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2011, 03:09:15 AM »
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I had no idea that Russ was doing research at M.I.T.!   Wink



Just shows how right he's been all along!

Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2011, 08:53:53 AM »
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"Anyone want to put bets on how long it will be before cameras come with internal algorithms to "rank" photos (using the research of this paper) as part of the photo taking process?"

not with correlation coefficients of around 0.5 or less i hope.
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RSL
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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2011, 09:11:33 AM »
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MIT could have saved a lot of money on research if they'd just asked me. If they'd been interested in the question fifty years ago they could have asked Walker Evans. He'd have told them, as he told his student: "It's a beautiful sunset. So what?"

As far as an algorithm to determine if a photograph is memorable, having done 30 years of software engineering I'm rolling on the floor laughing. These guys need to read Weizenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2011, 12:26:16 PM »
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Most people shooting landscapes do not do it to make them memorable, they shoot it because they are compelled to express what they feel about the world and humanity, and landscapes are their chosen medium. Just like mountain climbers climb mountains "because they are there". So whether landscapes are memorable or not carries very little weight in my case, even assuming the study is right.

Now, the study. It reminds me of those countless studies with "revolutionary" discoveries of the type "if you eat too much, your chance of getting obese doubles or triples". Another aspect of this study, to use analogy from the computing world, would be GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). That is, study conclusions are heavily influenced by the assumptions made and tools used in designing it.

For instance, if you use a generic postcard photo, as the one used in the article, of a mountain against blue sky, it is been seen by everyone millions of times before and is as "memorable" as if you turned the lights off or locked the door leaving the house. Compare that with human pictures in the study: each one represents a very unique or unexpected situation. So, generic vs. unique... hmmm... which one will I remember better? I see a Nobel prize in the making here for answering such a deep question.

Even the authors admit it: "...natural landscapes... can be memorable if they feature an unexpected element..." No shit, Sherlock!


« Last Edit: June 04, 2011, 02:10:23 PM by Slobodan Blagojevic » Logged

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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: June 04, 2011, 12:35:18 PM »
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Even the authors admit it: "...natural landscapes... can be memorable if they feature an unexpected element..."

Exactly, Slobodan. That's why landscapes that include the hand of man often are memorable, while landscapes that include only what Wordsworth called rocks, and stones, and trees almost never are.
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bill t.
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« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2011, 12:43:32 PM »
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One of my best sellers is a picture of an abandoned rock house awash in sunset colors.  The glowing drama of the piece is nice, but what really sells it is the fact that every teenager who grew up in this area got drunk there every other Saturday night.  Makes it very memorable indeed.  I would say all my best sellers connect to peoples memories and recognition of place in similar ways.  I am tempted to say "iconic" images are the most memorable.

But forget the merely pretty pictures, only another photographer could like those.  We photographers are seriously in error when we use the praise of other photographers as a litmus test of an image's worth.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2011, 12:46:14 PM »
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Russ, we obviously have a different notion of what an "unexpected element" might be. For me it could be light, color, shade, juxtaposition of elements, etc., everything but the hand of man. OK, scratch that.. there could be occasionally a hand of man.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2011, 12:48:42 PM by Slobodan Blagojevic » Logged

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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2011, 12:47:11 PM »
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Weizenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason.
One of the few memorable books I have read in my life.


Oh - and yes --- its good to shoot beautiful but forgettable images - if people remember the image they wouldn't need to buy a print.
Make beautiful forgettable images and become rich ... !
« Last Edit: June 04, 2011, 12:49:31 PM by Christoph C. Feldhaim » Logged

Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2011, 01:37:10 PM »
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Russ, we obviously have a different notion of what an "unexpected element" might be. For me it could be light, color, shade, juxtaposition of elements, etc., everything but the hand of man. OK, scratch that.. there could be occasionally a hand of man.
+!0.

Eric
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bill t.
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« Reply #11 on: June 04, 2011, 03:09:26 PM »
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What makes an image memorable has nothing to do with its visual components by themselves.  Memorable pictures are ones that stimulate pre-existing emotional programming within the viewer's mind.  That is why cliches are highly memorable, some level of receptive programming is already in place in the grey matter, what an advantage for the cliche artist!

It's about lighting up memory circuits already present in the beholder's brain.  Successful photographers do not stagger around on mountaintops with their walkabout lenses, but rather plumb the depths of the human psyche for clues that will lead them efficiently to the Perfect Memorable Shot.

Bottom line, those MIT guys are trying to measure memorability just because it's something sufficiently well defined to be measured.  Would appreciate it if they would up the bets and give us a map to greatness or at least saleability, that would interest me a lot more.
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RSL
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« Reply #12 on: June 04, 2011, 05:32:33 PM »
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Russ, we obviously have a different notion of what an "unexpected element" might be. For me it could be light, color, shade, juxtaposition of elements, etc., everything but the hand of man. OK, scratch that.. there could be occasionally a hand of man.

Slobodan, Check Turner and Constable and you'll see what I mean. In some cases you come upon the hand of man unexpectedly.

It doesn't take an algorithm to know that people are a lot more interested in man's relationship to nature than in nature itself. Let's face it, until fairly recently we regarded nature as demonic and ugly. It wasn't until Rousseau that that attitude began to change, and our current attitude toward nature is learned, not inborn.
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feppe
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« Reply #13 on: June 04, 2011, 05:51:10 PM »
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Let's face it, until fairly recently we regarded nature as demonic and ugly.

What culture would that be? Granted, some aspects of nature have been considered "demonic," namely storms, earthquakes, floods and other calamities, but I find such a sweeping generalization questionable at best. Even more so in the case of ugliness, although I can see a case being built if you're using that in the brutish sense of the word.
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« Reply #14 on: June 04, 2011, 06:05:35 PM »
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Feppe, I don't have time to dig through my books at the moment, but I did a quick check on the web. Here's one reference: http://1000petals.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/human-attitude-towards-nature-throughout-history-andreev/

If you'd like more, I'll try to find time to do some more digging.

I'm surprised you found this strange. It's a well-known fact.
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #15 on: June 04, 2011, 07:16:00 PM »
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What culture would that be? Granted, some aspects of nature have been considered "demonic," namely storms, earthquakes, floods and other calamities, but I find such a sweeping generalization questionable at best. Even more so in the case of ugliness, although I can see a case being built if you're using that in the brutish sense of the word.

I'd have to agree with you.  I've spent a lot of time in "nature", most of it in foreign countries.  I've almost always been in the company of a client or student so I've been able to observe their comments regarding certain aspects of nature, and I've never.. not even once.. heard it described as "demonic" or "ugly", though I can certainly think of some natural disasters I've witnessed which would qualify.


Nature is capable of of invoking all emotions which is why landscapes are so meaningful to those whose frame of reference invokes those specific emotions. 

Take the sea for instance, it goes from calm and azure blue beautiful with a myriad of life submerged just below on a coral reef.. to angry, ugly, and almost homicidal as a cyclone appears out of nowhere and starts destroying/killing everything in it's path. 

We must remember, 'most' of those who view our work aren't academics, art directors, or even fellow photographers.  They are normal every day people who could care less if an image has CA, noise, or the other issues we worry ove.  During "ugly" times of nature they tend to stay indoors and isolate themselves.  They most often experience nature when it's at its best.. and their observations will be anything but "ugly" and "demonic."

Nature is the source of our roots.  Nature is the beginning, and the end. 
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RSL
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« Reply #16 on: June 05, 2011, 06:39:57 AM »
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Feppe, I'll have to admit that "ugly" probably wasn't the right word, but "threatening" certainly is one of the right ones, along with "demonic."

Steve, You and I agree that nature can be beautiful, but our fairly recent ancestors didn't. The idea that nature is beautiful is something we learned from poets and painters, and, as I said, the lesson began around the time of Rousseau. As Casey said, "You could look it up."
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feppe
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« Reply #17 on: June 05, 2011, 09:32:14 AM »
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Feppe, I'll have to admit that "ugly" probably wasn't the right word, but "threatening" certainly is one of the right ones, along with "demonic."

I'll take threatening, but the word I'm having problems is demonic. That would imply ill will or evil intent. Nature has been revered and even feared throughout the ages due to its unforgiving and often unexpected acts, but I'm having hard time pulling examples of entire societies considering nature evil and twisted.

I'm by no means expert on the subject given my reading on mythologies and philosophy is mostly on Finnish, Stoic, Chinese and Japanese, so I'd be interested in some scholarly research or books on it if there are any. The link you provided is to some random blog of uncited commentary from an HR manager - not even going to touch that one...
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« Reply #18 on: June 05, 2011, 01:20:51 PM »
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Feppe, Yes, the link I turned up in a rush isn't scholarly by any means, but it's not wrong either.

Since we're into this discussion, which I never expected to have on LuLa since I thought that what I'm saying was common knowledge among people interested in fine art, I need to qualify my original statement. I'm talking about western art. The art of the Orient took on landscape long before European art did.

If I'm to find the references I want in my books, it's going to take a while. While we were in Florida a pipe broke in the house and flooded the room where I kept a lot of my reference books -- happily not my photography books. I'm trying to find replacements for the damaged lot.

But, in the meantime, as an indicator of what I'm saying, look for Western landscapes painted before the Romantic period. They exist, but they're allegorical, and dominated usually by religious or genre themes. The landscape is incidental to the allegory being presented as the subject of the painting. It wasn't until Rousseau more or less launched Romanticism that we began to see landscapes painted to show nature as a glorious thing. Both Turner and Constable were painting their landscapes during that period.

"Demonic" probably is too strong a word for periods as late as Baroque, but even then people didn't feel nature was benevolent. It was threatening and the threat was overcome mostly in religious practice. In some earlier periods I'd be willing to stick with "demonic," but before I can make that stick I need to find better references than what I have available at my fingertips.

In the meantime, here's a bit more focused discussion of Romanticism I found on the web: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html. If I get some time I'm going to do a more thorough search on the web because it'll to be a while before I have my books back.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #19 on: June 05, 2011, 04:29:10 PM »
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... until fairly recently we regarded nature as demonic and ugly. It wasn't until Rousseau that that attitude began to change, and our current attitude toward nature is learned, not inborn.

I rarely agree with Russ on matters of landscape, but this is an exception. We may quibble about his choice of words, whether it is indeed "demonic and ugly", but the essence is quite correct, at least when we are talking about Western civilization. And Russ' quoted source may lack the credibility of an established authority, but, once again, the essence was correct. Besides, I've been rarely much of a sucker for authority anyway.

But for those who rely on authority only, lets first establish it for my next quote. It comes from Sir Kenneth Clark, author of the Landscape into Art. To save you a trip to Google, here is the Wikipedia intro : "...a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians of his generation. In 1969, he achieved an international popular presence as the writer, producer, and presenter of the BBC Television series, Civilisation.".

The religious aspect below can be used to understand the notion of "demonic". Underlining is mine:

... To some extent they were the outcome
of mediaeval Christian philosophy. If our earthly life is no more
than a brief and squalid interlude, then the surroundings in which
it is lived need not absorb our attention. If ideas are Godlike and
sensations debased, then our rendering of appearances must as far
as possible be symbolic, and nature, which we perceive through
our senses, becomes positively sinful. St. Anselm, writing at the
beginning of the twelfth century, maintained that things were
harmful in proportion to the number ofsenses which they delighted,
and therefore rated it dangerous to sit in a garden where there are
roses to satisfy the senses of sight and smell, and songs and stories to
please the ears. This, no doubt, expresses the strictest monastic view.
The average layman would not have thought it wrong to enjoy
nature ; he would simply have said that nature was not enjoyable.
The fields meant nothing but hard work (to-day agricultural labourers
are almost the only class of the community who are not enthusiastic
about natural beauty) ; the sea coast meant danger of storm and
piracy.
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