Day 2 - 6 steps to create a WOW photo

Editing apps are not a magic fix

You may have been surprised to discover that the first few lessons of a mobile editing course has not yet mentioned any apps or editing tools. Learning how to identify your photographic intention, visual language and aesthetics; empowers you to be much more effective, efficient and creative in your photo editing.

'Photo editing is no substitute for photography principles and techniques.'

Photo editing is great to enhance photos, extend the capability of your phone camera, add your creative interpretation and fix the occasional user error! You have no doubt heard the expression 'getting it right in camera.' It is extremely difficult to un-blur an out of focus photo caused by subject or camera movement. The techniques below will help you to both set up and edit the photo.

How to create a WOW photo?

In the previous lesson, you were introduced to photographic intention and visual language. Let's explore that further to create a WOW image evoking some form of response from the viewer. This can be admiration, appreciation, or a range of emotional reactions.

The transition from taking a snapshot and recording a moment in time to capturing a WOW photo can be attributed to how you:

  • Set up the photo - pre-planning the photo capture
  • Photo editing - enhancement after the photo

#1 tip - Grab your viewer’s attention

Some tactics to create instant appeal can include:

  • Bright and vivid colour
  • Contrast - black and white
  • Very sharp incredible detail
  • Extreme close-up
  • Strong emotional connection

#2 tip - Composition

WOW photos consistently feature a strong focal point. Supporting elements are positioned to provide context and a narrative to the story. The inclusion of objects, lines, colours and lighting manipulates viewer attention and guides them around the content.

In the previous module, you learned about photographic intention and started to gain a new appreciation of storytelling. Composition fits in perfectly as there are some decisions to make that can really lift your image from a snapshot photo to a WOW image.

A couple of quick questions to ask yourself:

  • Hold the phone vertically (portrait orientation) or horizontally (landscape orientation)?
  • How close can you crop to the subject before losing supporting contextual elements?
  • Is this the best angle – flattering, light direction, background clutter or context

Related article: 20 question pre-photo photography checklist

Below are a couple of basic compositional guidelines to start transforming your images at capture and the editing stage:

Rule of Thirds


Click/tap here to read the tutorial on Rule of Thirds

Objects in the centre of the photo are static. Placing subjects off-centre encourages the viewer to find it and then explore the rest of the photo, lingering in the photo for longer. We instinctively do this with selfie shots, moving off to the side to show the location behind.

Have you noticed the grid/gridlines feature on your smartphone camera? The gridline creates a Tic Tac Toe board style visual overlay on the screen. 

The ideal, sweet spot is to place your main subject on one of the four points in the image, where the lines intersect. This places the main focus off-centre both horizontally and vertically. 

Cropping and Framing

Cropping an image can help adjust the composition of the original image. Outer edges can be cut out and re-positioned to change how existing elements interact with each other. There are so many more compositional techniques. I will cover more of them shortly in the cropping lesson on Day 5.

Leading Lines

Lines can be naturally occurring or introduced into an image is the easiest way to bring the viewer into your photo. You then direct them to look next supporting object providing the context. We notice leading lines through lighting and colours.

Lines can also affect the feeling in a photo. Vertical can be dominant and powerful as opposed to horizontal feeling calmer. Converging or even curved lines can provide more space and relaxed emotional response. During photo editing, these lines can be further enhanced to stand out.

Images shared in our Facebook community weekly photo theme


Photos taken at eye level are common and not very interesting. Shooting from a different angle instantly becomes more interesting. A low angle isolating the focal point against the sky can make the subject clearer and more engaging.

Experimenting with angles can produce surprising results.

#3 tip - Background

Taking a moment to check the background of the photo you are setting can really make or break an image. A distracting background can take the viewers' attention away from your main subject or have them complete mis-interpret what your intention was in the photo.

A clean, distraction-free background looks so much more like an intentional, set up image instead of a happy snap. Why mention this in a photo editing course? You can go back and fix most of your previous images. You can blur, darken and even remove objects from your background - all on your smartphone.

At the time of capture, isolating the subject can really make the subject really stand out and make it a much more powerful image.

Check on my article: 30 tips to create stunning silhouette photos on your smartphone

#4 tip - Selective focus and a sense of depth

Click/tap here to read the tutorial on background blur

Creating a blurred background adds depth and the main subject jump off the screen. Hence why there is so much technological advancement in portrait mode and live photos in smartphones. The Lens Blur tool to add background blur and an alternative app After Focus is covered in more detail in Module 3 - Day 11.

Creating depth in a two-dimensional photo can be a challenge. At the capture stage, this can be created by positioning elements in the image in the foreground, middle ground and at the distance. When we are editing, there are a couple more techniques that we will touch on briefly now.

#5 tip - Lighting

Click/tap here to read the tutorial on lighting

You have no doubt already heard that photography is all about beautiful lighting. All your favourite photographs, regardless of their subject, have one thing in common: great lighting. Experimenting with natural and artificial light will help you understand lighting.

An example of different lighting is the golden hour. This is a time of day shortly after sunrise or right before sunset when the suns light is neither too harsh nor too weak. This can be further enhanced in photo editing using either saturation or white balance tools. This is covered in more detail in Module 2 - Day 6.

#6 tip - Colours

Colours in an image, particularly a dominant colour can also contribute to the attraction and direction of the viewer’s eye. 

Red attracts the eye. A little bit of red positioned off-centre may be just enough to direct the eye briefly before moving on to the next element. The correct balance releases attention before becoming fixated and static. 

Including, removing or reducing the vibrancy of colour can also impact on the way our eye moves around an image.

Unlike lines and shapes, colour affects us on more of a subconscious level. The four power colours are: red, blue, yellow and green.

Red can incite a physical response. It is the most effective colour for grabbing our attention. Traffic lights and safety signs are red, creating a physical response of alertness. Other responses to red are excitement, energy and even aggression. In the above photo, red is used to stand out as Team Leaders.

Blue has a more intellectual response of calming, trust, clear and honest. Research has shown that blue is one of the most favoured colours. You will notice that the volunteers in the above image are wearing blue.

Yellow is more aligned to an emotional response. We feel more optimistic and confident. The tone of yellow is crucial. Tone means the amount of grey in the colour. A bright yellow will fill us with self-esteem and energy like a sunny warm day. A dark yellow can have the opposite effect.

Green is more of a restful, natural colour that technically is the easiest for our eye to interpret. This creates a refreshing, balanced and calming feeling.