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Pre-visualization, or Previz for short, is a fundamental technique that is used by photographers everywhere to help them improve the final results of their work.
Pre-visualization is the act of imagining, or ‘seeing’ the finished photo before the shot is even taken. This takes practice and mental focus but as you become better at the art of Previz you will be able to accurately ‘predict’ the outcome of a photo.
Everything needs to be taken into account when you are taking photos and it can be tempting to worry too much about the equipment or other high tech aspects of the artform. However, despite these temptations the single most important thing that you should be concentrating on before you take a shot is the Pre-visualization of the photo you are about to take.
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Pre-visualization is a crucial part of any artform and photography is no exception. Artists, sculptures and musicians all visualize what they are trying to achieve before they get started and photographers must also learn to do this to get the best results from their work.
Why is Pre-visualization so Important to Get Right in Photography?
No matter what kind of photograph you are taking, whether it’s portraits, landscapes or street photography, you should be pre-visualizing the image before you take the photo. This practise can be seen as a type of fast paced meditation where you imagine as clearly as you can what you are trying to achieve before you try to do it!
Think about what you are taking a photograph of, what you are trying to convey to your audience and how you can do this. Creating a vision of the photo in your mind will drastically improve the results of your work by allowing yourself the time and space to really think about what you’re doing.
You should be pre-visualizing aspects of the photo such as the placement of the camera in relation to the subject, the type of lens you are going to use and the settings on your camera including shutter speed, aperture and ISO. You should also think about more abstract concepts such as the ‘feeling’ of the shot, the emotive content of the image and the ways that you can use compositional techniques such as leading lines, the golden ratio and the depth of field. To do powerful and effective pre-visualization you’ll need to be using your technical brain as well as your more creative side.
Ansel Adams and The Process of Pre-visualization.
One of the most famous early advocates of pre-visualization in the emerging artform of photography was one it’s great pioneers, the legendary Ansel Adams. Adams was a highly technical photographer who worked hard on the tonal range within his images and he was well known for his incredibly well structured approach to photography.
Adams went on to develop a well structured step by step process for pre-visualization that can be extremely helpful for photographers who are looking for ways to improve their own pre-visualization techniques within their practice.
Ansel Adam’s four step pre-visualization is as follows:
Need or Desire to take a photograph
The first step is to appreciate the Need or Desire to take a photograph in the first place. Why are you taking a photograph? Why do you desire to do so? There are many reasons why you could be taking a photograph and taking a moment to reflect on this can lead to a whole chain reaction of other thoughts and ideas.
For example, travel is a common catalyst for people desiring to take photos. In this case the reason to take photos is to capture the sense of place, the people who make it feel that way and maybe, depending on your interests, subjects such as food and cuisine, historical monuments or even the hotel where you are staying!
As well as appreciating why you desire or need to take a photo you can also deliberately put yourself in situations where this feeling is more likely to manifest. A perfect example of this would be signing up for a local photowalk when you know that you will be surrounded by other creatives and be inspired to take some photos!
Discovery of Your Subject
Secondly you will need to engage in what Adams described as the Discovery of your subject. Who or what are you trying to take a meaningful photo of? These could be elements of the landscape, a portrait of a friend or client, the vibrant streets of your city or a still life of a fruit bowl. Not only does this stage of the pre-visualization process involve actually finding and identifying a subject but it also requires you to consider the ways in which you intend to express it though your work.
For instance, at this stage of the process you will want to plan and think about the way you will use composition in the shot. Are you going to use leading lines to guide the eye of the viewer towards your subject or will you contrast it with a large negative space in the photo?
You should be asking yourself how you can capture the essence of your subject. Is there a specific feeling that you want to develop in the photo and is there an inner narrative within the shot that you are trying to express?
Answering these questions in your mind will help you to focus on the most important aspects of the photo and develop a stronger relationship with your audience. This is one of the most important steps in the process of pre-visualization. One technique that you can start to employ to make sure you remember everything you want to consider in advance is to write down a list of things to consider in this stage of the process before you take a photo!
Visualizing the Photo
The third step in the process of pre-visualization that Adams laid out is the act of visualizing the photo before you take it. This will certainly take some practise as you get used to your camera and equipment but in time you will be able to accurately imagine how the shot will actually turn out.
You’ll need to be able to understand the way the light conditions and the settings on your camera interact and then predict the way in which you can use these factors to achieve the results you have envisioned in advance.
It’s easy to become overly reliant on the camera but you should also step back from the viewfinder or LCD screen and, using only your eyes and your imagination, try to perceive the view as you intend to represent it.
Although some of this can sound a little bit abstract, it’s a fundamental part of taking great photos and by putting these techniques into practice you will start to see great results in your work.
Execution of the Photograph
The fourth and final step in the process of pre-visualization is the actual Execution of the photograph. It may seem that this is simply a matter of pointing and clicking however, as any photographer will tell you, there’s much more to it than that! You need to understand the technical principles of photography and the way that your camera works. When you are taking the actual photo after you have pre-visualized the results don’t rush the shot and take your time to get the settings just right.
Try Dry Shooting to Practice Your Pre-visualization.
Ansel Adams originally coined the term ‘dry shooting’ and it refers to pre-visualizing the photo, setting up the camera and getting the settings, focus and everything else ready but then not actually taking the picture! Adams compared this to a musician practicing scales on the piano because by dry shooting you are working through the process while only relying on your mental vision of the photo.
Pre-visualization is a Vital Skill to Master to Improve as a Photographer.
Photography is always about seeing the world around you and creating unique representations of it for your audience. By practicing pre-visualization your skills as a photographer will be improving by the day. Even when you are without your camera you can still imagine a potential photo, while sitting on the train to work or even as you are walking down the street to get some groceries at the corner store!
This will help you to immerse yourself in your artform and see the best possible photos in any subject you discover! Practicing this skill as much as possible will make your pre-visualization better and you’ll be able to work faster and in an ever more intuitive way.
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Don’t let the Camera Work Take Over the Entire Process.
Pre-visualization is about seeing your subject and the compositional potentials of the view without actually taking a photo. It’s easy to get too sucked into the viewfinder and see everything from that perspective but if you step back and consciously use your active imagination and creativity to compose your photo you’ll soon find that the finished shots are looking that much better.
Pre-visualization will help you to master your camerawork and give you more opportunity to focus on the composition, elements of the photo and the narrative content that you are trying to share with your audience. Pre-visualization is something that you will never stop improving and once you get the hang of it you’ll find it’s not only effective but great fun too!
Do you practice any of the pre-visualization techniques of Ansel Adam’s?
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