Daily browsing the http://flickr.com/explore selection of featured photos, my eye is drawn to certain images more than others. Thinking more about this it seems like there are several layers of meaning that separate the viewer from the moment and location of capturing the subject.
Wanton alteration of the subject by use of filters, distortion or exaggeration by choice of lens focal length (or possibly the exaggerating of bokeh when selecting especially wide-open aperture) special effects, time-lapse or blurring by means of slow shutter speed distract me from the subject itself and detract from the communication process of identifying, understanding, and possibly empathizing with the subject. Post-processing or in-camera adjustment to clarify, focus or convey the context for the subject, however, achieve the opposite effect; not interfering, obscuring or separating me from the subject, but instead making it easier to grasp or grapple with.
So the question remains: what is it about an image that draws your attention (by itself or together with multiple elements). Is it an interest in the place, person, thing, or event? Or is the appeal more about the quality of light-as-subject: the ‘blue hour’ (before sunrise/sunset; crepuscular times) or about the ‘golden light’ (an hour or two after the sun’s appearance when shadows are long, and again 1-2 hours prior to sun setting). Or is it a trick of technique in-camera or post-processing? It can be hard enough to gain a clear understanding of a subject by itself, without drawing attention to the quality of light or the clever techniques that cause some fascination outside of normal waking vision. So while creative juices may continue to test the many added features and tools provided by software and hardware, my own purpose will be to convey a subject something similar to the experience of the human eye: I favor stitched panoramas using a ‘normal’ lens (angle of view found in 35mm equivalent to 35-65mm lens).