Wow factor

Technically photography is the science of capturing and recreating visual images from measuring light properties over a given area. Once you could say that it was a means of producing a visual record or document, however with today’s image manipulative technology not all images will be a true visual record. In fact under the name of art, many visual images that were originally derived from photography can end up pure fantasy born from the creative imagination of the artist and the digital tools at their disposal!

When you take a photograph, are you recording a visual document of an event, time, action, or place, or are you trying to create a work of visual fine art!

Photojournalists, professional event and commercial photographers are all commissioned to capture a visual record, but to show their professional ability, they are under pressure to make their work stand out! Making your work stand out is the artistic side of photography. Giving your images a degree of “Wow-factor” from your own understanding of the art form of visual imaging.

There are scientific facts that contribute to this talent. For one, our eyes are always attracted to the brighter objects in our field of vision. So there’s the first clue! Make your subject the brighter element in your composition.

What is a subject I hear some say? The subject in a visual image is going to be what most captures your attention within the image! An object, creature, person or scene that is of a particular size, shape, position, tone, colour or texture, or implying some action, mood, or emotion in relationship to the rest of the image. So once you define your subject, put a little light on it—Please excuse the pun!

“Wow-factor” is not just visual, it is implied. Anything that sets our cognitive processes in action and/or generates some form of feeling, or emotion from the visual experience. A shaft of light coming down from the sky looks impressive, but it also invokes thoughts of the wonders of nature, divinity, celestial wonders etc. This is implied. We know thoughts of the heavens or celestial things arouse our cognitive processes—we wonder of that which might, or indeed does exist beyond our grasp and any evidence of it might leave us in awe saying “Wow”! So there is another clue to creating art from scientific fact—human psychology!

Human psychology also covers why we like images of compositional balance. The rule of thirds in composition for example is not just made up! Evidence from the study of human psychology tells us we like this image composition, as we also enjoy symmetry! So there is another clue to chasing that “Wow-factor”!

“Wow-factor” is not always from pleasant images, but rather dramatic images and these can often be disturbing. Photojournalist will vouch for that. They have often got to capture images that may be disturbing, ugly, sad and often depressing, yet they still seek that “Wow-factor” in them to show their professional talent. Remember our emotional experiences go both ways and we often remember the bad things better than the good ones!

In fact because of that, all art is very subjective. If it wasn’t, our judgement would be determined solely on a set of defined rules—the perfect sterile environment for a computer, not a human!

In summary:
Wow-factor is a three-fold expression incorporating two fronts—the visual experience and the implied:

  1. The expression or mood portrayed within the image (implied)
  2. The emotional impact you feel when you look at the image
  3. The cognitive intrigue that holds your attention

There are two ways to generate Wow-factor:

  1. Implementation of creative concepts that come with natural talent, education and time (experience)
  2. By fluke—right time, right place, right settings, right application

In other words “Wow-factor” is not something you can just conjure up. We all strive for it and sometimes achieve it in all its’ glory, but often have to settle for less!

It is usually a fairly unique image through perfect timing on the shutter capturing a rarely seen moment frozen in time, or a dramatic enhancement of tones, colours, texture or unusual lighting effects, or mood expressed by subjects within an image impacting on your viewing experience or cognitive thought processes, or a combination of all these elements. Often even nature can provide “Wow-factor”. All we have to do is capture it in unique ways.

Article by Gavin Lardner, freelance photographer and member of the Photo Arts Club of Tweed, NSW, Australia.

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