Remembering images

How to remember images

You know those games that ask you to look at a picture and then quiz you on what you just saw?

These games supposedly test your “photographic memory”. Although there’s still no conclusive evidence on whether “photographic memory” is actually a real thing, your skill at remembering images can be improved with a few techniques that we’ll describe here.

Let’s start with an example.

What these games typically do is they let you study a picture for one minute, and then they ask you various questions about what was in the picture.

For example, take this picture:

Remembering images and everything you see

Remember what you see! (As if anyone would WANT to remember something as absurd as this picture.)

After showing you this crazy, pointless image, the quiz might ask any of the following questions:

  • How many boats are in the picture?
  • How many kids have their mouths open?
  • Is the structure on the land (A) a house, (B) a church, (C) a tent, or (D) a water tower?
  • How many ducklings are in the picture?
  • Is anyone wearing a green shirt?
  • Is the shape on the foremost boy’s shirt (A) a circle, (B) a square, (D) a crescent, (E) a star, or (F) a pentagon?
  • Is there any blue sky showing in the picture?

So… is there a way to improve your performance on this type of game?

Of course there is!


1. Segment

The first moment you look at an image like this, divide it into about 5-10 parts. For this picture, I would do it like this:

  1. Sky
  2. Background mountains
  3. Left shore
  4. River
  5. Right shore

As quickly as possible, set these segments along a very familiar memory palace.

  1. Sky: My bedroom
  2. Background mountains: My bathroom
  3. Left shore: Dog cage
  4. River: Dining room table
  5. Right shore: Kitchen


2. Memorize the facts

Keeping in mind what kinds of things you’re likely to be quizzed on, remember as many facts as possible within the timeframe.

  1. I imagine that my bedsheets are mostly blue, but fading to yellow on one side. There are no smaller stains on the sheet, however, indicating that there are no clouds.
  2. There is a brown mountain range with three peaks in my bathroom. The middle peak is taller than the other two; it towers over my sink.
  3. boy with a face on his shirt is jumping up and down on top of the dog cage, yelling excitedly with closed eyes. A mother duck with two little ducklings are inside the cage. The dog cage is surrounded by three tall trees.
  4. A boat that looks like a swan is on top of the dining table, with another similar boat underneath the table. In each boat, one above the other, are a boy and a girl, but one boy is above one girl and one girl is above one boy (indicating that the boy is on the left in one boat and on the right in the other boat). On two of the chairs, little yellow ducklings are sitting in red inner tubes.
  5. There’s a yellow tent on my counter, sitting dangerously close to an open flame on the stove. Three tall trees prohibit entry to the pantry, while a girl in suspenders and a yellow skirt is standing in the kitchen sink, yelling something about spilling mustard on her clothes, while a duckling tries to eat the mustard from her skirt.

See how just this, which is very easy to remember if you’ve had some practice with memory palaces, would get you five out of seven questions correct.

If you had extra time after a quick go-through like this, you could remember more detailed facts about the picture, especially using number mnemonics and other more advanced techniques.


3. Reconstruct the image in your mind… and build on it

Once you have these facts memorized, you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy to remember exactly what the picture looks like.

If you have time, go back and forth a few times between your memory palace and the actual image. Add details as they come up. It will be easy to remember smaller details; for example:

  • The gradient in the sky is divided into three parts
  • There are three shades of green on each tree
  • One duckling in each of the last three segments has its mouth open.

Try this with any photographs or image you come across. It works very well, and it’s about the closest thing to “photographic memory” that you can actually use to remember visual images.

Next article: Learn how to memorize anything.