How do people develop photographic memories

The power of pictures: what photos move us

We photographers often have so much to do with the settings of our cameras and the image composition that we can no longer see the power that images can develop. History is shaped through our medium, among other things. Snapshots go around the world and shape the memory of an entire nation. For example, when Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker recorded the brotherly kiss in 1979. An image that to this day moves not only contemporary witnesses but also subsequent generations. Photos can trigger so many different emotions in people that the power behind them rolls like a wave across the globe.

Why do images have an effect at all?

But first of all we have to ask ourselves why images can exert such an effective power at all. First of all, the mere visuality plays a role. Even if words naturally show their effect, pictures have a decisive advantage over them. After all, they work more directly on consciousness. Processing in the process of cognition is no longer necessary for them, unlike writing and language. Instead, images reach us even more directly. This has advantages and disadvantages, which we will deal with in a moment.

Memories and famous photographs

Incidentally, the power of images can best be understood when we review our own memories. Because in fact there are always different images that decisively shape our memories of world-historical events. Photos of the people celebrating on the crumbling Berlin Wall, the hovering astronaut as the first person on the moon or the woman who put flowers in the gun barrels of the soldiers during an anti-war demonstration. These photos come to mind immediately when we think about the associated events.

Such symbolic photos are available to illustrate practically every event of world historical relevance. Just take a look at the gallery of press photos of the year, which is regularly selected by an independent jury. The fact that they shape our memory of it should have already come to the fore in the example just mentioned. It is also noteworthy that these individual images often shape our memory much more strongly than the actually complex contexts of a historical context.

How do images influence us?

But what makes pictures so impressive that they can suddenly trigger a wide variety of feelings in us? It is precisely the fact that they affect us so directly that they can influence us unconsciously.

Unlike language or writing, both of which are constructed forms of communication, we can perceive images much more directly and intuitively. You can can be recognized many times faster by our brain. We captured the basic content of a photo in just 0.1 seconds. At the same time, it is easier for us to store a larger amount of image information. After a few days, it becomes easier to remember pictorial information than, say, a list of words.

The visual stimuli play a central role in our memory and in the storage of experiences, memories and information. That is why we perceive every picture in a very individual and subjective way. There are certain characteristics and criteria that are universally valid and are interpreted in the same way by everyone, while others trigger different reactions because they are related to different social contexts.

The perception of images and psychology

But there are more reasons why some images are burned into our minds, whereas others leave us completely untouched. An important element that can also be used specifically by photographers is color.

In fact, our color perception is often already predetermined by our socialization and, above all, our instincts, so that we different shadesassign different associations. In the case of color photos, it can therefore be assumed that this color psychological effect also has an impact on us. Of course, not only does press photography use color psychological effects, but also the advertising industry, for example. After all, ads should reach the subconscious as quickly as possible and encourage potential buyers to buy the goods.

The signaling effect of certain colors such as red or white is often used to attract attention. The images that the companies want to convey on advertising photos are very different and differ considerably depending on the industry.

We, too, can use the color effect in a very targeted manner when taking photos in order to charge an image with a very specific meaning or to address certain emotions with it.

Further possibilities of image design

In order to influence the image effect, we can not only use the color, other criteria can also be controlled in a targeted manner in order to bring the message of a photo in a certain direction:

  • Perspective: Everyone has probably played with the frog or bird's eye view. Depending on the angle from which an object is recorded, its effect can be greatly influenced.
  • Image detail: By choosing the image section, attention can be directed in a very specific direction. At the same time, it is possible to move other (unimportant) parts into the background or to hide them completely and remove them.
  • Contextual reference: If the central object is specifically photographed together with certain other things, their properties also rub off. In this way, completely new impressions can be achieved through the associations that are associated with very different things or situations in the image composition.
  • Lighting effect: Through targeted lighting, important things can be highlighted in a picture while others can be hidden - left in the dark.
  • Subsequent image manipulation: Photoshop and Co. offer countless design options for subsequent editing, from color corrections, montages or collages to complete alienation, for example with filters.

Product photography

By the way, product photography is a very interesting field in this regard. Here it is important to pull out all the stops in order to present the respective object perfectly and also to charge it emotionally, so to speak. Different rules apply here than in "normal" photography - when properly staged, the picture usually has little to do with reality. Nevertheless, the photo should often look as realistic and natural as possible. This Guide shows how products can be presented in the most appealing way possible. We want to give a few examples of this

  • The proportions and staging must be right.
  • Products should appear as three-dimensional as possible in order to look more realistic.
  • Different visual rules apply to shiny products than to food products, for example. These are often presented as particularly fresh and crisp and should encourage consumers to want to consume the product themselves right away.

Product photography is similarly manipulative as fashion photography, in which models are asked to show off certain clothes. Whether the goods on display can actually come up with the attributes or whether the picture does not completely correspond to reality is in fact irrelevant for product photography at first glance.

Requirements for the consumer

The named methods of targeted photography are very effective. Precisely for this reason, it is fundamentally necessary for us, who both consume and produce photos, to have a high level of media literacy. It is important that all people who are exposed to permanent media irritation know how to deal with it. As photographers, we know what methods of image manipulation there are and that not everything that shines so beautifully in the photos is always gold.

If we look at photos in today's media, it should be clear that many of them are staged and show a glossing over view or also have a manipulative character. Today this often also applies to press photos. Here too, many of the images have been purposefully changed and should always be viewed critically.


The complexity of the field of photography, which ultimately turns the medium into an instrument for a very specific purpose and thus also takes it a bit away from the actual photographic art, can certainly not be summarized in such a short time and in such a short space. However, it is also much more important that the consumers of photos develop a certain ability to reflect. What photos show does not always mean the truth and is far from always credible. At the same time, we can use the various options for creating images ourselves to create expressive images.

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