Ansel Adams talked about pre-visualization in photography, right down to the point of knowing what size he would likely print the image as he was making it. That’s because he knew that certain elements were best viewed larger or smaller. Fine detail was seen better when printed large, while simple graphic elements could work printed smaller and still be seen/understood. I have used this idea for a long time, when deciding what size to print an image. When I would lay out my 35mm slides on a light table, you could instantly tell which pictures would work smaller, as you could ‘read’ the image pretty well with the naked eye. But the images that needed to be viewed with a loupe to see more, were ones that usually ended up printed larger, for the detail to show up effectively. This is one sort of pre-visualization and it makes sense to me. In my last post with the image of trees, I mentioned that the small size in a blog post didn’t do the picture justice – it needs to be larger for all the detail/texture to really be felt. It’s something that many photographers overlook, when deciding what size to print an image. While not a hard/fast rule, it does make sense that certain pictures shouldn’t go smaller than a certain size, to be effective.
Another type of pre-visualization is thinking about what you might do to the image after capture. And by that I mean what sort of treatment, if any, will you give it? We have at our fingertips all sorts of processes that can take a picture to another level – painterly, illustrative, etc. What we choose to use should be based on what we want the picture to express. I wouldn’t, for example, want to do a solarized effect as I don’t think it would express anything close to what I wanted! That said, playing around can be great fun, too.
When I was photographing this Buffalo Bill ‘look alike’ in Montana a few years back, I knew instinctively that it was not going to remain a color picture. The bright colors were distracting me from the old-time, or timeless mood that I wanted to express. So while composing, and exposing, I was thinking in terms of monochrome. I knew that the tonal contrast was there, because I have learned to pre-visualize for black and white. In my workshops and in camera club judging, I’ve seen many a ‘flat’ black and white image that was converted from a color picture that didn’t have enough variation in tonal contrast – i.e. the color hues were too close in tonal value when converted. With the developed ability of what sort of contrast is needed for proper rendering of a monochrome, and developing your skill at converting, you can get great results, however.
I started with a B&W conversion, then continued by toning it with a sepia hue, and then added a Sketch light pencil from Topaz’s Simplify. The processed image is more timeless, the feeling that I wanted to capture. I can’t bring back Buffalo Bill himself, but I can create the feeling of an old-time picture of him, thanks to software techniques! Here’s what I started with as a color capture, for reference.
It’s a work in progress, but part of what I wanted to do with some of this year’s blog postings was experiment with various processes, sharing what I felt, thought, and learned from the experience of making and working with a photograph.
Great post, image and advice. I particularly like how your treatment worked with the lighting. The lighting is almost an afterthought in the original, with all its colors. In the treated image, the light becomes a focus. Thanks for this great post.
Thanks, Bob T!
im dont plan on printing big for awhile, if ever. guess ill have to stick to capturing graphic design elements with my d40 haha.
Well, I’m going to admit that I’ve never consciously gotten into this previsualization thing – probably an embarrassing and forever-damning confession to make. Obviously I try to get the best exposure I can and sometimes I have to know in advance what I want to end up with because I’m creating most if not all of the final effects in the camera.
But so many times I end up taking my images in many different directions afterwards, there is no way I could have previsualized them. Maybe that’s why I feel that more of my artistry occurs in the printing process as opposed to the capture side. Often I feel like I’m collecting raw material when photographing and only creating images when I get back to the darkroom.
As I said, this is heresy, I suppose.
No, Bob, it’s really not heresy! You are just creating for a different purpose when you plan to do things to the image after-capture. I would agree with you on that point – but I would also be willing to be that somewhere, inside, you are connecting with the scene/subject on a level that causes you to photograph it a certain way. Even that’s pre-visualization to a degree. 🙂 Then, the image may invoke a response that takes you in a different direction, sure. There’s a lot to be said for not having “a plan”, too, but rather simply responding to the scene/subject at hand; challenging yourself to see something in a new way, perhaps. The work on your new website (http://www.bobcornelis.com) proves that you are working from a standpoint of simply letting the subject speak to you, without a pre-conceived idea perhaps, and it’s wonderful work!
I might not have been clear in my musings, but I do think that pre-visualization is useful for those times when we are trying to make a realistic, albeit still a personal view, of a scene/subject. And I think that the practiced eye intuitively knows just where to stand to bring out the best of a scene/subject; or how to use the light or what lens to use. Whether it’s a large landscape, or the texture of sandstone, knowing what we want to show is a form of pre-visualization. I can honestly state that I don’t think “I’m going to make this a 16×20” when I’m out there, but I do pre-visualize what I want from a landscape, in the sense that I get ‘clear’ on what it is that got me excited about making the photo in the first place and then I set about getting that translated into an image. And I do sometimes see it as part of a larger print series or a smaller size, occasionally but not often!
As for my comments about Ansel’s pre-vis, I would venture a guess that later, many of us take into consideration the image details when deciding what size to print it to bring out the best of that image. That’s “after-capture” though, and Ansel was a rare breed in making that decision beforehand!
Very nice post and very helpful!
Nice post Brenda! You’re absolutely right about the importance of visualization. If you can’t visualize the final image you might miss an important step while making the capture.