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 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 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 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, we have so many resources to make research much easier and with great accuracy. Google Earth, GPS, and the Internet itself have made our lives so much easier. The Naval Observatory’s astronomical database is extremely valuable in determining when to be on location. There 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 for the fuel savings in addition to helping decide when and where to be with this fantastic technology.

So how does this all come together? I took a trip to Yosemite National Park hoping to get an image of the Horsetail Falls waterfall at sunset. Usually, this scene is available primarily towards the end of February when the sun sets at a particular latitude for that time of year. This allows for the sun to reflect on the waterfall that flows for a fleeting time off El Capitan. So even though I had a nasty flu I packed up and went, not wanting to wait another year for the big event. Well as you can see, I got lucky. One photographer in the field commented he’d been trying for 25 years and finally got the shot. WOW!

But that’s nature photography…and why I keep going back for more!