The WOW Factor in a Photo

Recently a visitor at Image City Photography Gallery and I had a conversation about the photos created by guest artists Michael Tomb and Marcia Zach.  After viewing their images, the visitor came out of the Neuberger Gallery and said that the photos had “touched her heart and brought tears to her eyes.”  We discussed how some photos seem to have a WOW factor.

So…what might make an image have that emotional effect on another person?  Certainly this is very subjective because the subject matter might have a personal connection to the viewer and that connection immediately draws the viewer into the image.  

Sometimes it’s the story that exists in the image.  The story can be anything ranging from the spread of sprinkles sitting on top of an ice cream cone, to an incredible jagged piece of driftwood lying on a beach, to a fascinating relation between people.  It might be a complex story or a simple message; for example: “those 3 weeds sticking out of the snow look so serene with the light casting shadows on the snow.”

Sometimes the story and timing are closely related as in the photo below.  

I was in the Dolomites and was awestruck by the mountains surrounding me, but on that particular morning when the sun rays were peaking out of the clouds, the scene touched my soul.  Now whenever I look at that photo, I find myself back in northern Italy, where I was humming “The Hills are Alive,” and I recall that beautiful day spent with family and friends.

The timing can be a matter of capturing that instant of a second that makes a difference.  You find yourself thinking, “I have to capture that magic moment!”  This happened to Gallery Partner Don Menges one day when he was sitting in his home eating dinner, and he noticed the drama in the sky after a rainstorm.  He simply had to leave his meal, grab his camera and go to a spot where he could capture the magic moment seen in the image below:

Another aspect about creating a WOW image might raise some discussion.  If you are a strong believer in Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) photos, this point is irrelevant.  If you believe in post processing, you may know that this is the part of your photography that transforms an image from flat to an image that pops.  This is the phase where a photographer can make an artistic interpretation.  Of course, there are certainly some aspects of processing that can actually ruin an image if one is not careful.  Some of the areas that might cause problems from over processing include halos, too contrasty, and over saturation.  As you process your image, you can enhance the good areas and hide the less desired parts; for example removing unwanted objects from your image. A nice side effect of improving your editing skills is that you start to pay attention to the details in your image and you start to get a better understanding of what makes a WOW photo.  You might find things in your image that degrade it (eg. Why did I include that garbage can?) and learn to avoid them next time you are on location shooting.  All of us can learn by making mistakes and trying to fix them.  

If you would like to see how Emily Supiot from “Cozy Clicks” edits an image submitted to her by Melissa Taylor, click the link below.  In the video, Emily shares her process for giving the image her interpretation of the WOW factor.

Keep in mind that in photography there are no solid right and wrongs.  No two people have the same opinion; thus to some people your close-up photo of a bee hovering over a flower might be considered a WOW image, while others won’t see the attraction.  Ultimately, the impact your photo has on others will depend upon their own personal experiences.  

If you have created a photo that provides a WOW factor, please consider uploading it and telling us why that photo impacts you.

2 responses to “The WOW Factor in a Photo”

  1. Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) is a noble idea but it isn’t an image that hasn’t been manipulated. Even if the photographer does no processing to the image produced by the camera, the camera’s processing engine has already applied many adjustments to what was captured such as contrast, sharpness, and brightness. The photographer can take that image data and process it further to make the image “pop,” to better reflect what he or she was feeling at the moment of capture and to better draw the viewer into that feeling. The masters at this type of processing, of taking it right to the edge but not going over the edge, are Don Menges, and Gallery friend Jim Dusen. These two well-known Rochester area photographers know just what to do to get the most out of what their cameras capture.

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