Photos as web content and the emotional content of photos

Contented Places 2011 entries:  first 7 photos.

We're running a contest for photos of places that convey a contented feeling. Alice and I choose spot-prize winners each month on the basis of their emotional impact.

For the September round, we chose from a mere seven photos! (More have been added since then, happily.) Even so, it wasn't easy, because all the photos had an emotional impact. Their content includes an emotional layer that we as viewers generate from our own experience.

I can only speak for myself, but here are my emotional responses to the seven September photos in our Facebook contest.

The first one is not part of the competition: that's our starter photo. It blisses me out, this picture of my sisters wallowing in a large rock pool near Taylor's mistake not far from Christchurch. That's my idea of heaven: pure water, sunshine, sisters. Once we were called the 6 Taylor sisters—more (happy) emotion! Today the photo carries an extra layer of emotion, a sad layer, after earthquake damage to this very coast and the heartbreaking coastal pollution in another patch of heaven, Tauranga.

Moving on to the next two photos. Very different from each other, they are also on a sea theme, which is no coincidence. A wide, flat horizon of beach and sea is (I think) universally soothing. Why do you think writers love to live by the sea? Both photos play with sun and shadow. Rumi Shivaz says beautiful Titikavaka Beach has 'a magical ability to slow his mind down.' (Does that ring a bell with you?) Tony Neighbours is cruising into the sunrise in the Hitchingbrook Channel. Hard to feel agitated in either place.

Next the jar of tadpoles! Andy Carnahan speaks of its simplicity and wonder. This packs an emotional punch too, taking me straight back to childhood, and endless hours of mucking around in water-races, rivers and beaches. Crabs were my friends and cockabullies and of course, tadpoles.

Photo 4: Melissa Kuzma shows a stately Great Blue Heron in a mysterious forest. This drops me straight back into forests I know well and the sheer wonder of all birds. As a child, I spent many months learning to fly and teaching my little sister to fly. The project culminated in Prue launching herself from a huge Norfolk Pine tree into a crumpled heap on the lawn. After a long and terrifying silence, she stood up and ran inside to Mother screaming louder than a flock of angry magpies. I look at Melissa's Great Blue Heron and think with amazement, 'It's huge, but it can fly!' No shortage of emotional impact there.

Photo 5 wins our first spot prize, the Twitter for Business course. Every gardener must be filled with joy and understanding when they contemplate this photo by Lisa O'Connor. The bright fresh green, the almost visible spring juices pushing through leaves—we love that, don't we?

Photo 6 shows kayaks at rest, again by the ever-soothing sea. Fiona Bryce says, 'activity to come and peace that is there already.' Yes! I know the contentment of resting after a hard day's pedalling—not paddling. How about you?

Photo 7 shows Donna Robertson's desk from an interesting perspective: 'A contented place — the place where I work on web content.' I sure hope you also feel that contentment. If not, I hope you can make it happen soon.

Reaction to photos in web content is strong. Favourites are photos of real people. That's a fascinating phrase, because all people are real, including models in air-brushed photos—yet web users typically barely glance at such photos. What we like is photos of people acting in their true identity, not acting a role.

If you have read to the end of this rambling article, I think you may share my own surprise. We can see that Donna chooses photos for web content with great care, and surely you do too. But who would have thought a handful of photos could trigger such a gush of memories and feelings?

Contented Places contest: enter now! Closes 15 November

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


1 Comment

Alistair McAlpine
Alistair McAlpine

October 23, 2011

Rachel, you are right to make the distinction between ‘real’ people in online photos and… well, the other kind.

Web-users are sceptical and slow to trust websites. First impressions count and photos are an important part of their initial scan.

Stock photos are quick and easy but are also a fast way to confirm their suspicions that your website is a facade and that your text is also likely to be.

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