The unmatched power of images

Humans are innately visual beings. The things that pass over our optic nerve are etched into our minds and written on our hearts. As such, visual images have incredible power over our thoughts and our feelings. Our brains process the things that our eyes see in milliseconds. Our minds make conclusions about what we think and how we feel about the things we see instantaneously. As makers of visual media, we need to be aware of the effect our images can have on our audiences. Understanding the cognitive and emotive impact of media can make us better creators of content.

Cognitive impact takes place in the mind. Cognition is defined as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. It is about the thoughts that are processed in the brain and is related to the logical reception and comprehension of information. Cognition is about learning. Scientists and psychologists have identified a number of theories in regard to the use of our senses in the learning process.

One construct is the VARK system, which identifies four types of learners: VARK stands for visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic. Visual learners tend to learn best when they see information so they can visualize concepts and ideas. They learn and retain information best when a concept is accompanied by charts, graphs, photos and graphics. Auditory learners learn by hearing. Others learn best by reading or writing. And kinesthetic learners process and retain information best when they can have hands-on experiences. People learn more and remember things better when they are able to access two or more of their learning types. One of the reasons video is such a popular and effective teaching tool is that it plays to multiple learning styles.

Emotive impact takes place within the heart. The things we see do not merely affect our thoughts; they impact our emotions and can have a deeply profound influence over our feelings. The emotive side of visual processing is related to perception and judgment. Our visual cortex is activated to help us process and identify how we feel about the things that we see. What we see may trigger an immediate emotional response. We may experience strong feelings of compassion, sympathy or empathy, or of jealousy, anger or outrage, or of joy, delight and elation.

The things we see do not merely affect our thoughts; they impact our emotions and can have a deeply profound influence over our feelings.

Many of us have seen footage that has a lasting impact on our emotions. The recent Camp Fire that devastated the town of Paradise, California, a neighboring town to Videomaker’s headquarters, is one example. The aftermath of the fire produced surreal footage that has since been etched into the minds of many. The feelings that the Camp Fire footage generates are powerfully emotive to those affected by the blaze.

As video producers, we can harness a number of techniques to steer a viewer’s feelings in one direction or another. Shaky camera shots and canted angles can make a viewer feel uncomfortable. Some carefully selected suspenseful music adds an auditory element to add to the tension of a scene. Simply changing the angle of impact of your key light can have a drastic impact on how people feel the person on camera. Lighting so half of the face is in shadow can make a subject seem shady, suspicious, guilty or downright unscrupulous. Uplighting a person from a low angle light can make them seem threatening and ominous.

Understanding the cognitive and emotive impact of media can truly make us better creators of content. As producers, we have the power to influence the perceptions of our viewers merely by how we light, shoot and edit our videos. May we always use this incredible power for good, and leverage the innate power of visual communication to make the world a better place.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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