How I Caught a Glimpse of the Elusive “WOW-Factor” & What You Can Do To Get Your Own

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We all want to amaze our friends, family and hopefully even our raving fans with our photography, but in order to do so we need to first find out how to make our photos stand out – we need to harness the elusive “wow-factor” and have it help us define our style.

Do You Shoot to Record a Moment In Time or to Tell A Story?

This question is one you must ask yourself every time you pick up the camera. There are two types of photographs in my eyes – ones that record a moment in time and ones that tell a story. Each serve their purpose and I have nothing against either one, but I do think that photographing to tell a story is more prone to “wow-factor” photos.

That’s not to say that you can’t take good photographs of moments in time after all there are amazing and beautiful things happening all around us every day. Take this wild flower for example.

Flower

Technically it’s a good photo right? It’s sharp, composed with purpose, and processed to showcase the flower’s natural beauty, but it’s nothing more than a moment of time captured. Unless you have an obsession with white flowers this probably doesn’t jump off the page for you.

Moments in time can be spectacular though. Take this lightning bolt photograph that I captured a few weeks ago and if you’re curious you can read about out how I did it here.

Lightning

It’s a photo that many people were excited about when I published it, I’ve even sold a couple prints of it, but does it have the “wow-factor” that I’m talking about today? I don’t think so. In reality this photograph is no different than the photograph of the flower above it. It records a moment in time, but doesn’t tell much of a story. However, it is compelling in a way, and that can be attributed to the fact that we don’t typically get to see a lightning strike for more than a fraction of a second.

Still for me it’s missing the point of this post which is the “wow-factor” that comes from having a compelling story within your photograph.

So How Did I Catch A Glimpse of the ‘Wow-Factor’

Over the weekend I caught a glimpse of something that made me stop and think “wow that’s cool” and ultimately it’s what has inspired me to write this post for DPS.

I was photographing a wedding at a location where the building spans the main street through the city. I was presented with the idea of having the couple kiss under the arch of the building, but in order to do this we had to stop traffic in both directions for a couple minutes – not an easy task on a Friday afternoon so this was a one shot deal.

Couple kissing

While there are always other things to try and I’d love to have had a second, third and fourth chance at this photo I am pleased with the result of this shot. I think it succeeds in telling a story and I know that the bride and groom absolutely love it so in the end that’s what matters most to me anyway.

Three Keys To Help You Find Your Own Glimpse

I’ve been using the word ‘glimpse’ in this post because I do believe that “wow-factor” is something that for many of us will come and go until we can fine tune our aim.

I don’t believe that it can be taught specifically, but I do believe that it can be learned. This might sound kind of strange, but what I mean by this is that we each have to figure out what works for our own style through our own process. After years of experience we will fine tune our abilities and as an end result harness the “wow-factor” to define our style.

That said here are three key points for you to keep in mind every time you set out to create a photograph which I believe will help speed you along the process of creating photographs with the “wow-factor” you’re looking for.

  1. Shoot with Purpose – When you click the shutter button how often are you thinking about why you’re clicking the button? Instead try telling yourself exactly why you’re taking the photograph that you’re taking before you take it – by doing this you’ll be photographing with purpose and hopefully end up with a better shot to show for your efforts.
  2. Tell a story – A picture is worth a thousand words right? Well this cliche is only true if the picture actually tells a story. Otherwise, it’s just another photo added to the pile.
  3. Go Beyond – I didn’t have to stop traffic to get a photograph of my couple kissing in the middle of the street. I could have shot with purpose and told a story on the sidewalk or in a garden, but by going the extra mile we were able to capture a more compelling image.

I think that we all get chances to create photographs with ‘wow-factor’ in them. They don’t happen often and it takes more than simply clicking the shutter button to come up with the vision that makes a photograph something more than just another moment frozen in time.

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John Davenport

is the creator of PhoGro – Gro’ Your Photography a community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers.

John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos that covers the most important elements for getting started with photography.

  • Great post, John. I think those “glimpses” are why we do what we do.

  • David L.

    Great article… until now I’ve just captured “moments in time” 🙁

  • The wow factor is often in the eye of the beholder. What is a wow to someone may not be a wow for others.
    For me natures treasured moments are a wow

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-Mammals/G0000IrGRBOD5m2s/I0000zmf_buERy7k/C0000bdEkyK_8Dzs

  • Me too, for me wow moments are with nature! But I guess even then a story can be told.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • @Steve & Mridula – I suppose from the way the article is written it could be interpreted that I intend that “WOW” factor moments are those with a bride and groom kissing under a bridge. This is not the intent and to clear things up there are amazing wow factor moments in nature as well – think about capturing a photograph of a bear fishing a trout out of a river in Maine – that would definitely have wow factor for me. But of course you are right in a sense – wow factor is ultimately determined by the person viewing the photograph if they say wow then you know you’ve done it right!

  • Clyde

    Great post, really gives me something to think about. Like you said, I have had those “capture a moment in time” all the time, but those “WOW” shots are much less forthcoming. One of my favorite shots I have ever taken was literally a spur of the moment and required a bit of luck. I was riding home from work and the road passes by a major airport. Well one of the runways runs perpendicular to the direction of the road. I just happen to be shooting and testing out some settings on my camera and a plane flew right over my head. It was a one shot deal, The sun was setting and I had a slow lens on the camera and the car I was in was going 50 miles an hour and worst I wasn’t even in RAW mode, luckily I had been shooting with a fast shutter so I turned and fired. It’s far from a perfect shot and if I had more time to prepare and not shoot from a moving vehicle it could an amazing shot I think. That being said, given the circumstances I think the shot I came away with was not that bad. And it tells a story, or has the potential to, I mean like an art, ten people can look at it and see ten different stories. I think it has a touch of the WOW shots.

    I absolutely love your wow shot though of the wedding, really well done and illustrates your point to a tee. Just absolutely beautiful and original too. Great job on that.

    On a side note, saw your post the other day about the processing of the lightening shot. Something I’ve been wanting to try myself, thanks for sharing your set up on that, gives me something to try out.

    (In case anyone wants to see the shot of mine I was referring to it’s here: http://500px.com/photo/23467195

  • @Clyde – First awesome story and your photo definitely did come out well and really truly amazing given the circumstances, but yes you’re right, I think that the wow moments are only things that we can get glimpses of and it’s more about helping to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time with the right settings in order to capture them. We can’t make “wow” happen – it just does.

    Also, happy you enjoyed the lightning post, I’m hoping to get another crack at it tonight and tomorrow as we have a couple days of possible storms coming up!

  • raghavendra

    I always believe a photograph should tell a story.
    How about making it one as a comical effect added to it.
    Thats how i did a story of cat.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/p/story-through-pictures.html

  • Dennis

    So I am curious. The picture was taken under a bridge then the background was changed? I do not understand how this, if it is, doctored photo would be a “wow” factor photo. IMHO a photo that is captured and comes straight out of the camera with little adjustment would be the story teller since it is of the real subject. Here would not the story have been changed and be more fiction that fact? There is a story, but “wow”?
    My training is from mostly self instruction, but one mentor did say once that the photo is what comes out of the camera. Ansel Adams stated that “you don’t take a photograph, you make it” and I truly believe that is the case. But isn’t there a difference in making one and faking one, especially when it is being considered a ‘wow’ factor photo?

    http://www.pbase.com/dnsmac/image/148472660

    http://www.pbase.com/dnsmac/image/148511709

  • Some times I think about all he shots that I have taken that simply end up in the pile because in the end they are another “Nothing” shot.
    Recently I took a photo of my two dogs looking at a sunset over a lake. The shot isn’t perfect as it was very late in the day and most of the “In your face” colour of the sunset had gone and I was left with the pastel colours. The lake had wind ripples so there was no “Mirror Image” reflections and the dogs were far enough away that they didn’t dominate the picture and were just silhouettes but looked like an old Grandma and Grandad watching the sunset in the twilight years of their life.
    Everyone who sees that picture says that it reminds them of someone or something and stirs up memories. I can see things wrong or I too can see memories and emotions in the photo and I just love it.
    I have tried to “Re-shoot” the scene but somehow I cant get the same effect and the dogs don’t always sit where I want them. First time around I was laying prone on my stomach on the wet grass to get low down enough to get the Silhouettes against the lake so maybe I will have to wait for some rain to fall first.
    Some of my “Perfect shots” hardly draw a comment from anyone but the “Dogs” always get a comment about how it reminds them of something and that is “Perfection to me”, Ciao.

  • Garirae

    How does one Wow viewers who are not connected to Nature? If a bear catching a fish is a Wow Nature image, where does that put a closeup of foam and smooth water? Or a cathedral dome of bended trees? Im concerned that people, including photographers have become desensitized to subtlety and only respond to brash in-your-face images. Stopping traffic for a photo doesn’t tell a story about the kissing couple ‘s love or reflect any beauty about relationships; it is simply a reflection of the imagination and control of the photographer. We who shoot Nature can’t stop her traffic and pose her subject…

  • @garirae – You’re absolutely right – as a nature shooter it’s not going to be possible to “stop traffic” and get your WOW-Factor moment so you’d have to think differently.

    For a nature shooter to get a WOW-Factor shot I think it’s not about taking control of the situation so much as it is about knowing the location, animals and weather and then having the patience to wait for the moment to happen. Each style of photography will have its own kind of wow-factor and none of them are going to be easy. They all take vision, experience, and a little bit of luck to pull off, but as far as a well composed photograph of smooth water – I don’t think it can ever be classified as a “wow-factor” shot simply because something of this nature isn’t going to have the punch to push it beyond a great photograph of smooth water.

  • Andy

    Nice write up and nice location for that wedding portrait. I grew up in that town!

  • GariRae

    John, thanks for your feedback. I have to agree that nature photographers need to think differently re Wow factors and “stories”. That said, I’m on a quest to create Wow images that aren’t wide angles with angry skies, primarily because what is see in Nature is so different. I’ve a attached an image of the Truckee River at sunrise, which reflects what I’m trying to do with water..ie, to capture the Wow tactile nature of water. I’m obviously still working on the concept…but I”m tenacious.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikergrl2010

  • I enjoyed your thoughts on ‘The WOW’ factor and the picture as well. I think you did a Great Job with both. However, I’m not completely sold on a couple of points because (and this is just My Perspective and no reflection on you, your writing or your work) I didn’t get ‘the story’ you were trying to tell even though I think the shot is really great and I like your choice of Black and White (always a great medium in my opinion but over-used by many of the Instant Photographers’ out there).

    I shoot a LOT of different subjects like you do apparently; I have to because I live in a very Rural area where I have to be able to shoot for Commercial Clients who are either based here or come in for whatever reason, as well as the local sports for parents, not to mention the odd Bridal Shoot/Engagement/Wedding/Family/etc., etc., etc. I like people and enjoy making images they love, but I have also found that when shooting people as part of my business that I have to make pictures that make them say wow whether I like what they want or not.

    The WOW factor, to me, is totally subjective and based on any single given persons taste and perspective. Sort of like when you have that buddy who has been telling you about his new girlfriend that should be a super-model and then when you meet her for the first time you think, “HER?!” Lots of people can “Just Love” a given image, but not everyone will feel that way and those who do like it can like it with differing intensities and on different levels. I also think there is a certain amount of luck/preparedness in a WOW shot. I also believe that Luck favors the Skilled and Prepared more than those who are not.

    My passion is nature and for me it is MUCH easier to get an image that explodes and says WOW or gives someone a feeling of OMG when I am shooting that sort of work. I do sell a good portion of my work as Fine Art Prints locally and at a couple of locations that get a good stream of out of town traffic. Since I am Photographer because it is my Passion AND it is my chosen occupation, it is more important for me that One person likes the print enough to Buy it than to have 25 or 30 admire it but then leave it behind.

    Anyway, just for for thought.

  • Sorry, miss-spelled my email. What can I say, it’s late.

  • Ed Law

    Stick with TAKING pictures. The example? Wow? Only that the traffic actually stopped .. police help?

    Suggestions and advice. .. hmmmm.

  • ScottC

    This one makes me think a bit, great points well made and after looking thru my own photos for some “WOW” factor I came up empty handed.
    Thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • I think it is a difficult part being a Photographer, but definitely a worthy one. I mean, if you shoot strictly for your own satisfaction (which is as worthy a reason as any) then you aren’t under the pressure of having to please or wow other people. But this is still an important part of making images; if you aren’t wowing yourself from time to time, then why shoot pictures at all? This article has made me stop and think about my motivations and expectations (of which I try to have as few as possible because I’ve found that Expectations are just Preconceived Resentments, most especially when people are in the mix).

  • Caroline

    The BEST WOW I ever got was one morning I was going out the yard to work. There was a BUCK and 12 does standing in the front yard. I had the camera and VOILA, snapped ONE pic and they took off. It has been my FAV WOW for years and years. I will never get that pic again, sooooooo glad I got it.

  • Linda Bon

    Just curious….are you in the states? It would seem to me you’d have a lot of irate people trying to get home whip out their guns and start shooting….before the cops arrived to give you a ticket. LOL BTW….I AM an American…just know how impatient and rude people are when driving and how many of our law enforcement people are. *Please note, I did not say “all” law enforcement people.

  • Michael Bogert

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2f543160b4f7b915482729ee0c3600907d7845299277bce0c09ade89ed2bb89f.jpg
    Although this photo doesn’t have that “wow” power punch, it does to me. I spotted the adult horned owl in early March and have been keeping an eye on it. I saw when the little ones hatched, and now I see them getting ready to fly. I waited over an hour to catch one stretching its wings while all three were looking at me. So if the wow power is of only interest to me, so be it.

Some Older Comments

  • Caroline July 14, 2013 04:14 am

    The BEST WOW I ever got was one morning I was going out the yard to work. There was a BUCK and 12 does standing in the front yard. I had the camera and VOILA, snapped ONE pic and they took off. It has been my FAV WOW for years and years. I will never get that pic again, sooooooo glad I got it.

  • Chris Kesler July 13, 2013 09:17 am

    I think it is a difficult part being a Photographer, but definitely a worthy one. I mean, if you shoot strictly for your own satisfaction (which is as worthy a reason as any) then you aren't under the pressure of having to please or wow other people. But this is still an important part of making images; if you aren't wowing yourself from time to time, then why shoot pictures at all? This article has made me stop and think about my motivations and expectations (of which I try to have as few as possible because I've found that Expectations are just Preconceived Resentments, most especially when people are in the mix).

  • ScottC July 13, 2013 06:52 am

    This one makes me think a bit, great points well made and after looking thru my own photos for some "WOW" factor I came up empty handed.
    Thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Ed Law July 13, 2013 03:54 am

    Stick with TAKING pictures. The example? Wow? Only that the traffic actually stopped .. police help?

    Suggestions and advice. .. hmmmm.

  • Chris Kesler July 12, 2013 03:57 pm

    Sorry, miss-spelled my email. What can I say, it's late.

  • Chris Kesler July 12, 2013 03:56 pm

    I enjoyed your thoughts on 'The WOW' factor and the picture as well. I think you did a Great Job with both. However, I'm not completely sold on a couple of points because (and this is just My Perspective and no reflection on you, your writing or your work) I didn't get 'the story' you were trying to tell even though I think the shot is really great and I like your choice of Black and White (always a great medium in my opinion but over-used by many of the Instant Photographers' out there).

    I shoot a LOT of different subjects like you do apparently; I have to because I live in a very Rural area where I have to be able to shoot for Commercial Clients who are either based here or come in for whatever reason, as well as the local sports for parents, not to mention the odd Bridal Shoot/Engagement/Wedding/Family/etc., etc., etc. I like people and enjoy making images they love, but I have also found that when shooting people as part of my business that I have to make pictures that make them say wow whether I like what they want or not.

    The WOW factor, to me, is totally subjective and based on any single given persons taste and perspective. Sort of like when you have that buddy who has been telling you about his new girlfriend that should be a super-model and then when you meet her for the first time you think, "HER?!" Lots of people can "Just Love" a given image, but not everyone will feel that way and those who do like it can like it with differing intensities and on different levels. I also think there is a certain amount of luck/preparedness in a WOW shot. I also believe that Luck favors the Skilled and Prepared more than those who are not.

    My passion is nature and for me it is MUCH easier to get an image that explodes and says WOW or gives someone a feeling of OMG when I am shooting that sort of work. I do sell a good portion of my work as Fine Art Prints locally and at a couple of locations that get a good stream of out of town traffic. Since I am Photographer because it is my Passion AND it is my chosen occupation, it is more important for me that One person likes the print enough to Buy it than to have 25 or 30 admire it but then leave it behind.

    Anyway, just for for thought.

  • GariRae July 12, 2013 08:31 am

    John, thanks for your feedback. I have to agree that nature photographers need to think differently re Wow factors and "stories". That said, I'm on a quest to create Wow images that aren't wide angles with angry skies, primarily because what is see in Nature is so different. I've a attached an image of the Truckee River at sunrise, which reflects what I'm trying to do with water..ie, to capture the Wow tactile nature of water. I'm obviously still working on the concept...but I"m tenacious.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikergrl2010

  • Andy July 12, 2013 08:12 am

    Nice write up and nice location for that wedding portrait. I grew up in that town!

  • John Davenport July 12, 2013 05:15 am

    @garirae - You're absolutely right - as a nature shooter it's not going to be possible to "stop traffic" and get your WOW-Factor moment so you'd have to think differently.

    For a nature shooter to get a WOW-Factor shot I think it's not about taking control of the situation so much as it is about knowing the location, animals and weather and then having the patience to wait for the moment to happen. Each style of photography will have its own kind of wow-factor and none of them are going to be easy. They all take vision, experience, and a little bit of luck to pull off, but as far as a well composed photograph of smooth water - I don't think it can ever be classified as a "wow-factor" shot simply because something of this nature isn't going to have the punch to push it beyond a great photograph of smooth water.

  • Garirae July 12, 2013 04:15 am

    How does one Wow viewers who are not connected to Nature? If a bear catching a fish is a Wow Nature image, where does that put a closeup of foam and smooth water? Or a cathedral dome of bended trees? Im concerned that people, including photographers have become desensitized to subtlety and only respond to brash in-your-face images. Stopping traffic for a photo doesn't tell a story about the kissing couple 's love or reflect any beauty about relationships; it is simply a reflection of the imagination and control of the photographer. We who shoot Nature can't stop her traffic and pose her subject...

  • Allen July 12, 2013 03:38 am

    Some times I think about all he shots that I have taken that simply end up in the pile because in the end they are another "Nothing" shot.
    Recently I took a photo of my two dogs looking at a sunset over a lake. The shot isn't perfect as it was very late in the day and most of the "In your face" colour of the sunset had gone and I was left with the pastel colours. The lake had wind ripples so there was no "Mirror Image" reflections and the dogs were far enough away that they didn't dominate the picture and were just silhouettes but looked like an old Grandma and Grandad watching the sunset in the twilight years of their life.
    Everyone who sees that picture says that it reminds them of someone or something and stirs up memories. I can see things wrong or I too can see memories and emotions in the photo and I just love it.
    I have tried to "Re-shoot" the scene but somehow I cant get the same effect and the dogs don't always sit where I want them. First time around I was laying prone on my stomach on the wet grass to get low down enough to get the Silhouettes against the lake so maybe I will have to wait for some rain to fall first.
    Some of my "Perfect shots" hardly draw a comment from anyone but the "Dogs" always get a comment about how it reminds them of something and that is "Perfection to me", Ciao.

  • Dennis July 12, 2013 01:12 am

    So I am curious. The picture was taken under a bridge then the background was changed? I do not understand how this, if it is, doctored photo would be a "wow" factor photo. IMHO a photo that is captured and comes straight out of the camera with little adjustment would be the story teller since it is of the real subject. Here would not the story have been changed and be more fiction that fact? There is a story, but "wow"?
    My training is from mostly self instruction, but one mentor did say once that the photo is what comes out of the camera. Ansel Adams stated that "you don't take a photograph, you make it" and I truly believe that is the case. But isn't there a difference in making one and faking one, especially when it is being considered a 'wow' factor photo?

    http://www.pbase.com/dnsmac/image/148472660

    http://www.pbase.com/dnsmac/image/148511709

  • raghavendra July 11, 2013 09:40 pm

    I always believe a photograph should tell a story.
    How about making it one as a comical effect added to it.
    Thats how i did a story of cat.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/p/story-through-pictures.html

  • John Davenport July 11, 2013 01:52 am

    @Clyde - First awesome story and your photo definitely did come out well and really truly amazing given the circumstances, but yes you're right, I think that the wow moments are only things that we can get glimpses of and it's more about helping to make sure we're in the right place at the right time with the right settings in order to capture them. We can't make "wow" happen - it just does.

    Also, happy you enjoyed the lightning post, I'm hoping to get another crack at it tonight and tomorrow as we have a couple days of possible storms coming up!

  • Clyde July 10, 2013 11:00 pm

    Great post, really gives me something to think about. Like you said, I have had those "capture a moment in time" all the time, but those "WOW" shots are much less forthcoming. One of my favorite shots I have ever taken was literally a spur of the moment and required a bit of luck. I was riding home from work and the road passes by a major airport. Well one of the runways runs perpendicular to the direction of the road. I just happen to be shooting and testing out some settings on my camera and a plane flew right over my head. It was a one shot deal, The sun was setting and I had a slow lens on the camera and the car I was in was going 50 miles an hour and worst I wasn't even in RAW mode, luckily I had been shooting with a fast shutter so I turned and fired. It's far from a perfect shot and if I had more time to prepare and not shoot from a moving vehicle it could an amazing shot I think. That being said, given the circumstances I think the shot I came away with was not that bad. And it tells a story, or has the potential to, I mean like an art, ten people can look at it and see ten different stories. I think it has a touch of the WOW shots.

    I absolutely love your wow shot though of the wedding, really well done and illustrates your point to a tee. Just absolutely beautiful and original too. Great job on that.

    On a side note, saw your post the other day about the processing of the lightening shot. Something I've been wanting to try myself, thanks for sharing your set up on that, gives me something to try out.

    (In case anyone wants to see the shot of mine I was referring to it's here: http://500px.com/photo/23467195

  • John Davenport July 10, 2013 10:58 pm

    @Steve & Mridula - I suppose from the way the article is written it could be interpreted that I intend that "WOW" factor moments are those with a bride and groom kissing under a bridge. This is not the intent and to clear things up there are amazing wow factor moments in nature as well - think about capturing a photograph of a bear fishing a trout out of a river in Maine - that would definitely have wow factor for me. But of course you are right in a sense - wow factor is ultimately determined by the person viewing the photograph if they say wow then you know you've done it right!

  • Mridula July 10, 2013 09:34 pm

    Me too, for me wow moments are with nature! But I guess even then a story can be told.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Steve July 10, 2013 05:56 pm

    The wow factor is often in the eye of the beholder. What is a wow to someone may not be a wow for others.
    For me natures treasured moments are a wow

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-Mammals/G0000IrGRBOD5m2s/I0000zmf_buERy7k/C0000bdEkyK_8Dzs

  • David L. July 10, 2013 11:45 am

    Great article... until now I've just captured "moments in time" :(

  • Sam McConkey July 10, 2013 10:44 am

    Great post, John. I think those "glimpses" are why we do what we do.

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