Mental Photography

“In proportion to the clearness and distinctness of the image will be the understanding of it by the mind and the hold taken of it by the memory.”

Can you visualize your memory as a wonderful mental camera? The most wonderful moving-pictures in the world are those which move in the brain of man. No artist has ever succeeded in painting any picture so vivid or wonderful as those recorded in the memory of the brain.

Memory, in other words, makes mental photography possible, and each and every one of us is daily painting pictures in the brain. Some paint one picture, some another. There is a great variety in these pictures, but as we look back over the years, down the byways of time,. we can each of us pick out some treasured picture, some one that hangs out a little more vividly than all the rest.

“Among the beautiful pictures that hang on Memory’s wall Is one of a dim old forest that seemeth best of all.”

Your memory-gallery picture may not be the old forest—it may be a little rippling stream that runs down to meet the sea; it may be a cottage in an old town; it may be a beautiful tree some-where yonder on the banks of the lake. Each and every one of us has his different pictures that hang on memory’s wall, and we are continually adding to our art gallery.

Here, too, we find the familiar figures of the friends we have known in the, long ago, and the faces of loved ones now sleeping.


The mind is a great mental camera, and mental photography is a scientific fact. Now, the first step in developing your mental photo-graphs lies in the mastery of definite, concise perception. This is accomplished by means of undivided attention and concentrated interest, or undivided interest and concentrated attention.

The trouble with most of us in the matter of attention is that we have a tendency to divide our attention, to scatter our forces. Careless, indifferent attention and lack of interest is the rule and not the exception. Our tendency is to notice everything in general and nothing in particular to perceive, perhaps, many things at the same time, but no one thing with sufficient accuracy to make a clear-cut mental photograph to image vividly on the brain so that the picture will endure. Now, in memory-training as in life; not many things indifferently, but one thing supremely well, is the demand of the hour. Concentrate on the mastery of mental photography, and to carry the simile farther, you must hold steady and in focus if you want to get a good picture. Your intensity as you take your picture is equivalent to your light exposure. Some can take snap-shots, while others take time exposures—it all depends upon the amount of interest you are able to flash instantly on the object as you take your picture and record it on the memory tablets of the brain.


The next consideration is, how to operate the mental camera. There are several working principles to be understood and practised. The factor of interest should not be overlooked. Those .who believe in enjoyable education have always held that interest is the secret of true learning, the sure way to mastery. Some of our leading universities are now stressing this point in practice, and urging the student to get as much enjoyment as possible out of his work. Some one has defined interest as ” Soul light for mental photography.” It illumines the object to be pictured, etching it so sharply on the memory that a clear-cut mental photograph results. Without interest in the thing you are trying to remember, you are like the amateur who tries to take a kodak picture on a dark and cloudy day, and you get the same result. We all know how desperately hard it is to learn anything in which we are not at all interested. Worst of all, such laborious effort is usually wasted. The ideas which we grind out by putting our heads in a vise are usually of little value. But how the ideas leap into life and how potent they are when a vital interest fans the flame of creative thinking ! No possible benefit can be derived from using brute force on your memory —nor does the grinding process help in mental discipline. Contrary to popular belief, drudgery does not develop will power. Let us assume then that interest is a prerequisite for mental photography. Arouse interest, if you have it not, in the objects to be pictured.


Another working principle is attention. With-out it, mental photography is impossible. One might as well try to take kodak pictures with the shutter closed. Of the two kinds of attention, voluntary and involuntary, we are referring to the voluntary, which requires an effort of the will.:How should one go about it to acquire the power of attention’ The first step, it seems to me, is to form the habit of definite, concise perception. Most people look without really seeing. It was said of the great Houdin, ” When he looked, he saw.” His mind became a highly sensitized photographic plate and registered everything within range. After looking for a moment at a store window, he could describe accurately and with meticulous detail every, article displayed there. Think how much an untrained eye misses in traveling. Whether amid the stately cathedrals of the Old World or the scenic beauty of the New World—whether in the crowded city or out in the untracked wilderness, a keen perceptive faculty is a most precious asset. The Indian guide or the back-woodsman will notice a broken twig or a. footprint where an untrained eye will see nothing. So many people never notice anything.

Two persons may go into a room and remain for a few minutes. Later, when asked to describe the room and what was in it, one cannot even tell how many windows it had or how many pieces of furniture in it. The other, with better perceptive faculties and a habit of accurate observation, can give you a clear picture of the room, how many windows, how many chairs, describe the table and the pictures and draperies.

Two men were out on a hunting trip in the great North woods. A sudden blizzard swept down on them while they were miles from camp and they were soon separated and lost in the blinding storm, neither had a compass, but one of the men had noticed that they had traveled due west from camp that morning, and he had also noticed on former trips that the trees in that belt of timber had a thick growth of moss on the northwest side of the trunk. Using this knowledge as a compass to guide him, he found his way safely back to camp. But his companion had not noticed anything for a landmark, drifted blindly about in circles until he fell exhausted, and when spring came, his whitening, bones were found miles away from camp. For his failure to notice, he paid the price of life.


Accuracy, definiteness, and exactness are qualities very difficult to attain for most people. They are like the college student, who was asked by the professor of that most exact science, mathematics, if he had found the solution of a certain problem, and replied—” Well—er—yes —at least I. have rendered it highly probable.”

Until we learn to look at a thing and really see it, we cannot give concentrated attention to any-thing. Without accurate perception, our mental images and pictures will all be blurred. I have sometimes given the following test to my classes: ” Without looking at your watch, draw a diagram of the figure six just as it appears to you in memory.” When the papers were collected, it was found that some students had written the numeral six—others the Roman VI, but when I requested them to look at their watches to verify their impressions, and for the first time they really saw that there is no figure six on a watch dial, a blank look would spread over the faces of that class indicative of a sudden collapse of the ego. Although they had looked at their watches a thousand times, they had never noticed that the numeral six does not appear on the dial. Try this test on some of your friends, and note the result.

” In order then to have a good memory—one that will bring the past clearly and accurately before us, we must attend to the formation of the images in the mind and see that they clearly and accurately represent the original sensations or ideas. In order to remember well, we must observe well and with attention. The great means, then, for strengthening and improving the memory are such as tend to the formation of clear and distinct images of the mind.”






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