Visualization, the most important step in my photography
Sometimes when I’m editing what I’ve just photographed I think to myself, what the heck was I thinking when I shot that?
As I drive the back roads of the prairies or hike the trails of the rockies, my eyes are always scanning my surroundings. In order what I’m looking for are shapes, colors and light. Shapes are the first thing that I notice. I always look twice at diagonals, especially on the prairie where everywhere I look I see horizon. Horizontal lines aren’t a bad thing in your composition but there aint nothing like a strong diagonal to move your eye across your photograph. Diagonals can be as obvious as a piece of tree lying on the ground or as subtle as a line in the grass.
Shapes usually form the basis of my composition but those shapes need not necessarily be objects. They can be colors. Differences of color across a field or a sky often form my diagonals. I like the thumbnail test. If the composition looks good as a thumbnail it’s usually good to go as a large print. When you first see a photograph it is the shapes that catch your eye. 3d objects or colors? It makes no difference. The eye doesn’t make the distinction in a photograph.
Last of all but still very important comes the light. The light compliments both the shapes and colors.
At the top of the post is a great example of WTF was I thinking when I shot this. I processed a half a dozen other shots before I got around to this one. I almost deleted it too. What you see at the top of this post is the “correct” exposure of my five bracketed exposures. My eye saw all the detail in real life. My camera did not. At least it didn’t with one exposure. There was something that clicked with me when I pulled over and snapped this.
To my eye the sky looked powerful, dramatic and colorful. The barley field and strong singular shapes. It was both the barley in the foreground and the dramatic sky that I saw. Our brains have the ability to coordinate all that we see and homogenize it. We can make it seem better than it is. I saw the great sky and beautiful foreground as a cohesive, blended scene. My camera was less understanding. It saw the barley as cold and blue/cyan, much, much darker than the sky. It couldn’t record the sky and barley together so it displays the lighter parts of the horizon as washed out.
This is why HDRs can be great help in your visualization. By tonemapping the over and under exposed images I can achieve the same thing that I had visualized. Some might say hold on a minute, all you needed to do was to put on a graduated neutral density filter to bring the tones together. That wouldn’t work as well as tonemapping. Very often I see landscapes where that is done and what the filter usually does is over darken the lighter parts of the clouds. It kind of works but it’s akin to using a big pile driver to put in a finishing nail.
Below is the final image. It’s far different than what the camera saw. It’s what MY EYE saw, that is my photographic eye. It’s easy to become disappointed when you shoot something and it doesn’t turn out the way that you had hoped. Your brain saw it. Your camera didn’t at least not without a bit of help.
Practice your visualization. That’s the first part. When you get home and start to process your images the visualization doesn’t stop there.