TED talk from Nat Geo photo director on the power of photos
National Geographic know all about the importance of great photos. David Griffin shows some wonderful photos from the magazine and demonstrates the story telling power of photography in what he calls ‘visual narratives’.
Grab a cuppa and spend 15 minutes in the company of some of some truly wonderful photos.
The photo director for National Geographic, David Griffin knows the power of photography to connect us to our world. In a talk filled with glorious images, he talks about how we all use photos to tell our stories.
There is a dedicated part of the brain that is dedicated to processing faces called the Fusiform Facial Area (FFA). We are particularly good at identifying faces within things that we look at, regardless of whether they actually contain a real face or not.
This phenomenon is known as pareidolia. We’ve all seen faces in the clouds and some of us have been lucky enough to profit from images of famous faces in cheese sandwiches!
Screenshot from BBC website showing image of the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich
It is because of the FFA that photos of people are so powerful. We can’t help but look at people when they are present on a poster, an advert or a website.
We are particularly attracted to their eyes, again this is a hard wired response. Photographers always make sure that eyes are in sharp focus when photographing people and animals for exactly this reason.
In digital product design we can use this knowledge to our advantage. Not only are we drawn to people’s eyes but we are drawn to look at what other people are looking at.
This photo from Nike Women makes use of this by using the gaze direction of the athlete to shift the attention of the viewer from the athlete to the product description.
Screenshot from Nike Women showing the influence of gaze direction upon where you look
This photo used on Puma.com is also very clever. It uses Usain Bolt’s trademark pose to draw attention to the call to action that the designer wants you to notice and to interact with.
Screenshot from Puma showing how gestures can determine where you look
Our gaze direction can also be influenced when using photos of animals. This tiger photo on the wonderful Arkive website guides your attention to the supporting copy to find out more about the species.
Screenshot from Arkive showing how even photos of animals can influence where you look
So if you are designing a page that has some elements that you really want to see, using photos in this way can be a great way of influencing what people look at.
Whilst doing some research for my UPA poster on the UX and psychological qualities of usable photos I came across made.com.
The quality of the photography is outstanding. The products not only look great but the size and variety of the photos give the shopper all they need to compare and choose the right product for them.
It’s also interesting to note how significant the photos are within the design. If you take the photos away you are left with pretty much nothing.
I wonder how the UX design process worked for this site. At what point did they have the photos? Was the site design always going to lean so heavily on photos? I wonder if they dropped any photos into wireframes for user testing purposes.
So a great example of a site with great photos and also a reminder of how important photos are to great websites.
I was thrilled to be interviewed by the behavioural psychologist Susan Weinschenk (@thebrainlady) recently on the topic of photo UX for her series of UX podcasts.
We covered a wide range of topics in the half hour chat from what UX designers can do to improve the quality of photos used in the products we design, to stories from my user research where photos have significantly influenced the user experience.
We even strayed into more controversial topics such as adding photos to wireframes and how to test photos with users during the design process.
You can listen to the podcast and read some of Susan’s fantastic articles on psychology and design over at her website ’What makes them click’.
“I eagerly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics, and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to comprehend and control them.”—Ansel Adams, 1981
Common garden spider photographed to draw attention to the eyes
The way in which a photo is taken can have a direct impact upon how it is viewed. Focus is a good example of this as the photographer can which elements of a subject are in focus and also the ‘depth’ of focus within the photo.
I shot the spider photo using a wide aperture which I knew would result in a narrow area of focus, also known as a 'shallow depth of field’. This was a deliberate choice that I made because in this instance I wanted to draw attention to the eyes. You’ll notice that little else in in focus in front of or behind the eyes.
So by controlling the depth of field we can influence what people look at within a photo.
Frost needles photographed to keep everything in focus
By way of contrast, pretty much all of this photo is in focus. In this instance it is the composition of this photo and the specific content of the photo that determines what you look at.
So if you want to draw attention to a particular aspect of a subject a photo with shallow depth of field might be a good choice. If you want to provide a more natural look that represents the whole subject equally then you can do that by selection photos which show all of the subject in focus.
But what if the user could decide what they want to see in focus and not the photographer?
A new system developed by Lytro allows you to do exactly that as this video demonstrates.
So is the future of online photos ones that can be retrospectively focussed to suit the specific needs of the viewer? Possibly not but this technology clearly has clear benefits in terms of allowing new levels of control within post processing and beyond.
Have a play with refocussing some images over at the Lytro website.