Blog by JourneyGroup

The Subliminal Message of Photography

In the time that it took you to read this entry's title, your brain already consumed the image of the athlete at the top of this post. Maybe you tried to block it out, or maybe you even have other web pages open with other photos vying for your attention. But chances are that if asked tomorrow what this image was, you could recall it and would still have remembered that it was an athlete, in pain from some sort of track workout; All of which are details that didn't have to be told to be understood. There is a much slimmer chance that you will remember anything else from this entry. 

A recent study done at MIT found that the brain can comprehend visual content in as little as 13 milliseconds. For comparison, it takes about 100 milliseconds to comprehend a word. We should all be familiar with the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So, if we do the not-so-perfect math, that means a paragraph describing a single photograph would take almost 2 minutes to read (if it is written succinctly and read quickly).

Whether you recognize it or not, you are constantly seeing, evaluating and judging images. Your brain constantly juggles a variety of visual information, and it is genetically wired to focus on images in a few basic categories: people and animals, contrast and motion. Some say that this stems back to a primal desire not to be eaten. 

There are a variety of techniques, or creative devices, that we as photographers and designers employ to capture your attention visually that are based on these genetic tendencies. For example, we might use a leading line: a strong, often angled, line of contrast that leads the viewer's eye from one place to another.

The entire process of creating effective images, though, is so much more than the simple click of a shutter. Arresting and memorable images start with the right planning — defining the elements that need to be communicated from specific images to the overall story that needs to be told. 

Gathering is the part of photography that most people imagine a photographer spends every day doing — walking around, composing and capturing images. The reality is that while some photographs take only a moment to capture, they can take years to make. Patience is a necessary attribute to the job, and capturing the right moment is often a practice of waiting, looking and always being at the ready.

The process of editing images is carefully selecting the right image and weighing the communication in its intended context. Only when the viewer interacts with an image is the process of photography complete.

So, if a viewer consumes images in less than a second, your visual brand or character can be defined just as quickly. Don’t you think it’s worth spending the time and energy to be sure that you're saying the right things?