Hur and colleagues set out to learn more about how people evaluate images; it seems likely that what they’ve found out is also applicable more broadly.
Some important definitions: sublimity was described as “The degree to which one feels in an object a sense of power, loftiness, shock and/or the grandiose. Synonyms: awe-inspiring, grand, great, immense, vast and/or imposing.” Beauty was characterized as: “The degree to which one feels in an object a sense of pleasure, elegance and/or joy. Synonyms: attractive, pretty, or loving.”
The research team determined that “increase of presentation size increases sublimity more than beauty . . . and that this is mainly driven by the effects of visual angle. . . . While increasing presentation height affects both sublimity and beauty positively and in similar degrees . . . the presence of color (vs. black and white [monochrome]) is predominantly related to judgments of beauty [photographs presented in color are more beautiful than they are sublime]. . . . reviewed literature discussed how sublimity has been linked with largeness, height, darkness, and high contrast, while beauty has been associated with smallness, color, and brightness.”
The American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology defines visual angle as “the angle subtended by a visual target at the nodal point of the eye. The width of an adult thumb at arm’s length subtends about 1 degree of visual angle, and there are 360 degrees of visual angle around the entire head.”
For more information on awe and how to design it into a project (and why doing so is worth the effort), read this article.
Young-Jin Hur, Christian Hallam-Evans, Yvette Garfen, Adam Baiza, Tabitha Spriggs, Margareta-Theodora Mircea, Oscar Nagy, Emily Pye, and I. McManus. “Differentiating the Visual Aesthetic of the Sublime and the Beautiful: Selective Effects of Stimulus Size, Height, and Color on Sublimity and Beauty Ratings in Photographs. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aca0000480