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| p.2 #19 · On visualization and Planning |
While I shot film in the past, I'm all digital now. I am often impressed by the work in some forums of people who "go out and shoot" for an afternoon wherever they are. I find myself unfulfilled when I try to do that, and I've tried a number of times.
For me the best images come when I've deliberately gone some place that inspires me and have a "vision" of what I'm trying to capture. Sometimes that "vision" is very specific and is a location I've scouted before or a vista I've planned with Google Maps for particular lighting. In...Show more →
Photographing "something" has led to a lot of great work, as has going out and photographing with something very specific in mind. In many cases I think we are (and I'm no doubt as guilty as anyone else) saying more about our personal preference or our comfort zone than about something that can be generalized to photography, and certain to photography beyond the world of landscape photography.
It is useful to look at the photographs and photographers that we hold up as our own models of great work. Among that work you will almost certainly find photographs located almost everywhere along the continuum from totally planned to near accident, and this is true for virtually all photographers. And quite often the two - planning and seemingly random coincidence - actually go hand in hand: the planning and experience might increase the odds that you are in the right place at the right time or perhaps help you recognize that a "right time" is about to occur, but in the end there are so many variables and uncertainties that are beyond our control that it amounts to hubris to claim credit for too much of what happens. We can take credit for how we see something but we almost never can really take credit for the thing being whatever it is.
I'll use two photographs to try to illustrate what I'm saying...
"Sierra Wave Clouds Above Owens Valley, Dawn"
One morning I was in Bishop, California, leaving my motel well before dawn with a plan to shoot autumn aspen color somewhere, though I had not really decided where. As I drove out of the parking lot I headed north and happened to notice in the nearly dark sky some cloud shapes that looked like they might be from the Sierra Wave phenomenon. There was no certainty about what would develop - it was before dawn and clouds change! But for some reason I decided that if I dashed 40 miles or so to the north and turned off into the Valley and drove toward a small lake where I have shot a number of times in the past that I might just be able to find a photograph. I drove quickly drove north, turned onto the side road, and drove straight to "my" little lake, unloaded camera and tripod, and quickly walked to a specific spot where I had shot before, and then set up tripod and camera. It was only at this point that I began to look around and "see" one of the many potential photographs that I had in mind come into being in front of me.
How much credit can I take for pre-visualizing this before going there? Some, I suppose, since I had a hunch that something interesting could happen, and I was willing to drop everything and go there. And I knew about a "there" already, having shot in the area a lot. But I could not possibly have conceived the specific arrangement of clouds and light, nor their orientation relative to the water and other elements of the scene.
"Fisherman Above Winter Surf, Big Sur"
This is one of my favorite "accidental" photographs. I've written about the full story elsewhere, and it is almost humorous how many accidents went into its creation. To be brief, I went to another spot that I hoped to photograph, but it was too early. Rather than wait around I decided to go prowl for other opportunities. Faced with a choice of going north or south, I almost randomly decided "south." I soon discovered winter surf and atmosphere conditions that I had not anticipated, and I went to a spot to photograph a subject that I had shot before and which I thought might be interesting in this light and these conditions. I shot that, and as I was in the area I just accidentally happened to notice two fisherman perched improbably above this astonishingly wild surf. It so happened that this was the very first time that I had brought along a particular long lens that allowed me - as none of my other lenses would - to get enough reach to include the fisherman in the lower corner of the frame against this wild sea. To see how important the completely unexpected appearance of the fisherman is to the success of the photograph, place the tip of your finger over the figure and watch the photograph turn into just another photo of surf. ;-)
Credit to me? Well, I'm willing to take some - I know this area well, and have an eye for what to find there - but I also have to admit that I was the recipient of a great deal of good luck.
As is so often the case, an Adams quote encapsulates this: “Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have somone click the shutter.” ― Ansel Adams *
(He also said: "Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships." ;-)