More Emotional Impact in Photography

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Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it's about?
Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it’s about?

I have posted a few blogs now talking about creating emotional impact in photographs. The subject is something I find absolutely fascinating but it’s also a double edged sword. You see each person’s background and experiences will dictate to a large extent what triggers an emotion. There are of course some things we are all hard wired to respond to such as a kind smile, but in general it’s our past experience that we link to with emotional triggers. The double edged sword I mention is that whilst these emotional triggers can create very powerful photography they can equally fail to have any impact, leaving the viewer wondering what the image is about.

So what sort of things can trigger an emotion?

There is the subject matter – examples might be a cute image of a baby or it may be an image of a subject that triggers nostalgic feelings. If you are from the UK you might instantly start to date the image above in your mind, possibly linking it with hardship or good times. But if you are from another country you might not understand the image at all; it could be meaningless to you.

Colours can trigger feeling such as blue making us feel cold and reds are warm. But it goes beyond this as certain combinations of colour used when toning an image can trigger feelings. Some pastel shades are particularly helpful in this respect and if you look carefully you will find this used in lots of advertising materials. Ever wondered why cupcake packaging all follows a similar theme.

Some special effects such as a simulated light leak or film scratches or film grain can all trigger emotional memory (even if you never shot film). This is possibly why some of the software packages that simulate film have become so popular in recent years.

Light can trigger emotional feelings as in the following image. This small out of focus image of light reflecting on water triggers a very strong emotion in some people that reminds them of lazy summer days spent relaxing, possibly in their childhood. Personally I love it even though it’s of nothing in particular; it may not do anything for you.

Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus
Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus

Why do I keep talking about this? Because I think it’s a route to creating more compelling, powerful images. If we can identify different ways of triggering peoples emotional memory we can create more striking, enjoyable and enduring images.

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