Liberty, New York (9:38:36 AM)
Liberty, New York (9:38:39 AM)
In a comment on a recent post, RyanW wrote:
“For me, I'm at a stage where I notice many things AFTER I shoot the photo, so I think I need to slow down...beforehand and visualize what it is I want to capture.”
This idea struck me as worth responding to in a new post rather than a comment reply. The thing is, I think a certain amount of visualization is necessary, but anything resembling full pre-visualization amounts to a false goal.
Photographs are not transcriptions of what was in front of the camera, but conversions of a view of the real world into a piece of two-dimensional graphics. So learning to visualize what’s in front of you as it will look stripped of binocular vision is a necessary skill if you’re going to have any advance notion of what the final result will be. Also, if you are working in b&w, you have to learn to anticipate what the scene will look like without color. Just as important, when working in color, is that the final presentation in print or on screen will not be a literal reflection of the real world’s color as your mind/eye interprets it at the scene. Not until you’ve trained your mind/eye to interpret the color in terms of the capture/processing/presentation you will use.
Another factor is that the picture consists of every square inch of the print (I’m not going to keep saying “or screen”). The picture isn’t a subject with stuff around it. The stuff is the picture just as much as the “subject” is. Understanding this helps keep you from finding a utility pole sprouting out of Aunt Martha’s head in the family snapshot. It also helps avoid having objects or patterns in the background draw attention away from what you thought was your subject. The whole thing has to work overall, all at once. But, methodical, linear planning may not be the best way to achieve this.
Gary Winogrand famously liked to say that he made pictures to see what something would look like as a picture. Sounds like just about the diametric opposite of pre-visualization.
The problem is, linear thinking is much too slow to deal with many of the situations that make for wonderful photographs. By the time you’ve pre-visualized everything about a possible picture in a step by step way, what you want to photograph may disappear. This is as true of a view camera landscape as street shooting with a hand-camera. My sense is that complete visualization, if we could do it at all, would encourage the repetition of established cliches. Complete lack of disciplined vision before shooting will result in a lot of random junk (1,000 monkeys tapping on their iPads will not produce “Macbeth”). Successful work has to come from somewhere in between those extremes and everyone may have a different spot, or comfort zone, along the continuum.
Making good pictures without visualizing every last detail of the final print probably involves a combination of practice and learning to rely partly on intuitive reactions to subject matter. Intuition is a lot faster than linear thinking, and not necessarily less accurate or powerful. Finding felicitous aspects of a picture that you weren’t consciously aware of at the time of exposure may simply mean that you are developing a good sense of photographic intuition. Finding that a picture fails because you were so busy concentrating on “the subject” that you missed all the distractions in “the background” means that you need to step up your photographic intuition training program—which just means go out and make more pictures, then study the results.