Ephemeral waterfall east face of El Capitan - Yosemite National Park

Pre-Visualization (and a little planning too!)

Do you pre-visualize your images? Many photographers do. In fact, Ansel Adams introduced this concept about pre-visualizing an image in order to help convey one’s artistic vision and meaning about the subject photographed.
A lot of us refer to it casually as our “mind’s eye” but whatever you call it the concept is genuine. It’s what helps make the difference between taking a “snapshot” and a photograph which conveys meaning, emotion, and artistic creativity.
As you compose or “frame” your image prior to clicking your shutter, you are in a sense visualizing your image. You are concerned about how it will look. Making sure a branch isn’t adversely sticking into the image causing distraction etc…however in this article I am actually talking about thinking of your image long before you’re even on location.

Often I think of an image I want to present long before I ever get the chance to take it. The process then begins… where do I want to take it, when, how, the time of day, how I want the lighting, what time of year…color or black & white? I even think of how I want the print to be made. Whether it will look good as a vertical, horizontal or maybe a panoramic.   I like black and white images, therefore I usually want a dramatic sky. This usually means I need to consider not only a local forecast but maybe even the time of year. Quite often I visualize the image months in advance! The image to the left is a prime example. Timing is everything!

Fortunately, in this day and age, we have so many resources to make research is much easier and with great accuracy. Google Earth, GPS, the Internet itself has made our lives so much easier. The Naval Observatory’s astronomical data base is extremely valuable in determining when to be on location. The are even programs that will show you where shadows on mountain sides will fall in relation to your position. It’s almost too easy!

Well it’s a start anyway. Location familiarity and local knowledge, however, will never take a back seat to these resources, but in combination these tools are fantastic. I use a four-wheel drive truck, my home away from home when out in “nowhere land” and I am grateful of the fuel savings in addition to helping decide when and where to be with this fantastic technology.

So how does this all come together? On my last workshop in Death Valley, I used this technique to determine the sunrise and the exact location on the horizon where the moon was to set. This then gave me the information I needed to take our group to a predetermined location for a morning shoot. I was able to discuss this information with the group who then chose the foreground that pleased them, knowing where the moon would set over the mountain range in the distance. It gave the group a “short version” of how to pre-visualize and plan for their own future compositions. The morning continued on with a discussion and this infield actual example of how it works. Accuracy was to the “minute”, it’s that good.

There is always the “other factor” though…Mother Nature. Oh, she has her way, doesn’t she? On this cold morning shoot in Death Valley, we still had residual dust in the atmosphere from a major wind storm the day before so distance compositions were poor to say the least. We did get plenty of close up shots and the morning was not a total loss. But that’s nature photography…and why I keep going back for more!