It’s much easier on the emotions when one sees life as an experiment rather than a struggle for popularity.― Criss Jami, Killosophy
Dealing with other people’s emotions is tricky, of course, and there’s no guarantee that people will respond how we expect. The advertising world is full of examples, almost daily, of ads where the imagery is so totally off-point that one wonders how they made it out the door. Yet, we can be sure that an entire room full of well-educated and experienced people had looked at that picture and thought it conveyed the exact emotion they wanted. We can also be sure they are surprised to find out they were wrong. Playing with other people’s emotions is necessary, but can backfire in a huge way if not well-tested.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when starting out on my own was creating a two-sided business card that was too sexy on one side. One side was a fairly standard head shot; neat, clean, and well-balanced, nothing surprising or potentially offensive. The other side, however, was a picture of a very busty young woman wearing a white fishnet dress on a white background. She was crouched so that nothing too personal was showing, but there was no question that nothing was beneath the fishnet.
Watching how people responded to that card was an important lesson. If I handed them the card with the headshot side up, their response was generally positive until they saw the second side, at which point many cards were returned to me. Not only did they not like the picture, people didn’t want the card in their possession. If I handed them the card with the sexy side up, something I was careful about doing, more people actually kept the card but were still careful about letting others see it.
Upon looking at the card she apologized for her reaction. “I’m sorry, I thought you were giving him tickets to a strip club,” she explained.
There were dozens of variations I could have applied to that card that would have changed the immediate emotion while still keeping the basic aspect of the image in tact but I went with what appealed to me rather than what experience told me would work. Not paying attention to the emotional content of an image as small as a business card caused a lot more trouble than I had anticipated.
Changes to today’s image weren’t many and didn’t take long, but totally change the emotional impact of the picture. The original (below) is flat, the colors dull, contrast is too soft, and the gradient between highlights and shadows is too flat. One’s first impression of that picture is likely to be somewhere in the range of dismissive. A few changes make the colors more intense, the highlights and shadows more extreme, and looks more artistic rather than borderline pornographic. Toss in the name of a salon, and the image becomes appealing to the salon’s primary audience. Emotional content has changed.
Varying emotions are easy to manipulate in a photograph. Getting it correct, however, isn’t always quite so simple. My best advice is to proceed with caution and never rely solely upon your own opinion. Test, re-test, and then test some more. Even then, be ready for surprises.