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.

Happy shooting,

Dan

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~ by Dan Jurak on August 26, 2012.

2 Responses to “Visualization, the most important step in my photography”

  1. Hi Dan,

    I so enjoy your blog emails. Just wondering if you could share some info on how to do bracketing in camera. What settings you use, f-stop, shutter speed etc. And then the post production part as well. Have you thought about doing a you tube video on such a thing. I have tried HDR in the past and they didn’t turn out. I’m pretty sure it was the settings I had in the camera.

    Thanks again

    Shelly

  2. @ Shelly, thank you for the kind words. I blogged a few months ago about bracketing, I think. LOL To recap because, I am always changing things to suit what I do, so how I did things a year ago might not be exactly the way I now do them.

    Because most of my landscapes are taken looking into the sun the bracketing is more extreme than if you’d be shooting during the middle of the day. I have my camera set to bracket five exposures. It is also set to APERTURE PRIORITY. That means, you set the f-stop, for me it’s usually f11, f16 or f22 depending upon how much depth of field I need, the camera determines the shutter speed. So, for all the brackets, the f-stop will remain constant and only the shutter speed will change to over or under expose the brackets. My brackets are one f-stop apart.

    Quite often the sun is in the corner of the frame. The camera metering is center weighted, that means it gives most importance to the light values near the middle part of the frame. If the sun is somewhere in the center, the bracketed exposures are always fine. However, I usually like to have the sun in one corner or another for better composition. This means that my exposures are almost always over exposed, that is too light and the highlights are blown out. To overcome this, I have the camera purposely UNDEREXPOSE by one f-stop.

    When I get home and start editing the frames in camera, of the five bracketed exposures there is usually one or two exposures that are too dark or too light to be useful. Those brackets, I automatically delete before they are uploaded to the computer.

    That’s it. I’ve tried varying the difference between brackets, that is in thirds of a stop but I’ve never seen a difference when doing that.

    When I process images in HDR, the first thing that I look for are halos forming in the areas between light and dark parts of the picture. If I can see the beginning of a halo, I’ve gone too far and need to pull back the strength on the sliders.

    Maybe one day I’ll do a video. Right now that seems like too much work and work is the last thing that I want my photography to become. It’s fun. I make a fair dollar from stock sales shooting what I want to shoot and when I want to shoot. In short, for me it’s the perfect way to spend my retirement.

    Thank you for visiting and don’t be bashful to ask me to explain something if I’m not clear enough,

    Dan

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