Visualization is one of the most useful and powerful skills a creative photographer can possess. It is also one that takes time and practice to master.
Visualization can be broken down into two categories: practical visualization and creative visualization. In yesterday’s post, we discussed practical visualization . Today, we take on creative visualization.
Visualizing Our Creative Choices
In creative visualization, we visualize the effects of subjective artistic decisions on the finished image. This is where we venture beyond considerations of equipment and technique and visualize the results of our own creative choices.
There is a lot the camera can do and automate for us, and then there are those aspects of the image that are entirely up to us. The most important of these is choice of composition, or the arrangement of the visual elements within the frame.
Depth of Field
By controlling the aperture, we have considerable control over how much of the scene will appear in sharp detail. Depth of field is the extent of sharp detail in front of and behind the plane of focus. Large apertures (small f-numbers) will result in shallower depth, blurring more of the foreground and background, while small apertures (large f-numbers) will progressively increase the amount of detail in these areas.
Depth of field is never infinite and depends on magnification, which in turn depends on the focal length of the lens, subject distance, and the print’s enlargement size.
When a subject is in motion such as flowing water, blades of grass swaying in the breeze, or an animal on the move, the use of slow shutter speed can record interesting blur patterns as opposed to freezing motion with a fast shutter.
Beyond simply achieving “correct” focus, the choice of focal point can draw attention to specific elements (e.g., the eyes in a portrait).
Exposure can be used creatively in many ways, and the ability to visualize its effects can be valuable. Some examples include deliberate under-exposure (such as silhouettes) or over-exposure for high-key images. Long exposures can help achieve unique results such as star trails. Multiple exposures at varying settings can be blended together to mix different effects. The choices are endless.
Finally, don’t be a slave to your camera’s built-in aspect ratio. Pick the one that works best for your composition.
Practice Makes Perfect
At this point you may understandably feel overwhelmed by the array of creative choices available in the making of an image and how to consider them all in advance of making an exposure.
The good news is that experienced photographers rarely, if ever, consciously visualize and consider each and every aspect one by one. With practice and experience, these considerations become intuitive and can be applied at a glance almost instantly and without having to memorize a checklist.
This is where practice comes into play. The purpose of constantly exercising the creative muscle is to transition from conscious effort to intuition.
To successfully make the transition:
- Start by consciously thinking about every aspect before making an exposure, no matter how long it takes.
- Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more.
- You will know you’re ready to let go of the checklist and the conscious effort when you encounter a scene and can immediately see in your mind’s eye the potential finished image you can produce from it.
- You’re not done! Some scenes offer a wide range of possibilities. Even when you are at a point where you immediately visualize a great image, stop to consider whether other alternatives may exist.
Visualization in Context
In our proposed creative process framework, we reserve a special place for visualization to be exercised in the field prior to making composition, exposure and processing decisions. Be careful, though, not to let your visualized image become prescriptive.
Remember that creativity can strike at any moment, including during editing, processing, and even years and decades after making your initial print. There is no reason to stick to decisions made in the field if you end up preferring to take your image in different directions at a later point in the process.
Michelangelo described his creative process this way:
In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.
Visualization is there to help you identify the potential in a scene. However, it needn’t be set in stone.