You know it when you see it: That “Wow” moment. Maybe you’re out and about with your camera and you’re fortunate enough to capture it. And you capture it well enough so that a would-be viewer of the photo experiences the same “Wow”. Sure, they experience it differently as they are looking at your 2D reproduction. But even the most artistically inept know a “Wow” moment when they see it. Photographer Mark Boyle happened upon such a Wow moment once when creating his photo, Over The Hedge (shown above). In fact, he’s no stranger to capturing the Wow moments, and so I am more than happy to use any of his photos for such a discussion. And so using Mark’s photograph as the root of our discussion, I’d like to explore what makes a Wow moment and how we can reproduce it for our viewers.
The truth is, at any given time of day at any time of the year, the location in which Over The Hedge was shot is a rather bland subject. And so in this case, Mark’s subject is, specifically, the Wow moment in and of itself. This photo is nothing without the Wow…and sometimes that is all that matters. Now if you were to go visit Mark’s photostream, he is what I would call an expert on the Wow factor. He captures those precious moments, or creates the Wow through his careful attention to detail and his well-honed skill set. I realize that Mark could probably speak better about the subject than I, but I can get you most of the way there. The rest comes from practice and experience.
So it starts with being able to see the Wow. Well, to be honest, that’s not that hard. We all know it when we see it, when we’re there. And so it’s a matter of snapping the shutter at the right time, right? I wish it were that easy. Truth is that Mark has probably learned a few things (and that’s an understatement) over the years. Even his recent body of work is greatly improved from his works just a mere year ago. So when you’re in the Wow, you need to identify why and what contributes to the speechless gasp and emotion that rises from the pit of your stomach. Is it the rarity of the well-clouded sunset, something that happens only once every few months? Is it the colors, or the contrasting details that arise from a bright day with looming storm clouds off in the distance? In the case of Over The Hedge, I think it is mostly the color. Not just the colors in the sky, but the tiny licks of the same colors mimicked in the likes of the grasses in the foreground. The scene before us is almost surreal – and that’s why we love sunrises and sunsets. So when clicking the shutter, I’m sure Mark is thinking about how precisely he is going to preserve those aspects. Color balance is important: He has to make sure the exposure is just right. Perhaps he takes a few frames (brackets) to be sure he gets the exposure just right. He probably already knows what he will do in post- and he may over-expose to get those highlights bright or under-expose to get the crisp line at the horizon. And what about the detail of the grasses in the foreground? Mark needed to freeze those in place in order to preserve their detail and to show their delicate existence. Slow shutter isn’t going to cut it. And where do we focus to get the most effect? These things matter when you’re creating that exposure, because you won’t get a second chance; you cannot redo the shot tomorrow.
I guess my point is that the Wow moment – when you’re in it – isn’t so easy to capture and communicate to your would-be viewer. There’s a lot you can take for granted. But we need to be quick on our toes and always be thinking about the shot from different angles. We want our viewer to be as dumbfounded as we were when we were in the moment. It’s a lot to think about in such a short time. But if you can master that skill, you too can be a Wow Master, just like Mark.
Mark Boyle is, as I said, a Wow Master. And you will be inspired and motivated by his body of work. You can view his work on Flickr, of course. But you can also view his work through 500px and you can purchase some of his works via Redbubble. Doesn’t matter how you find Mark’s Wow Work, but you should do your best to explore his body of work.