Friday, July 6, 2012

Photographic Vision - What It Is And How To Get It

Many great photographers will tell you that to be successful you need vision. Charles Hawthorne said, "The world is waiting for men with vision - it is not interested in mere pictures."
Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
This scene unfolded before me. If I had just snapped, it wouldn't have been very good. I had to think about where I wanted the tree, the lens flare, the mower, the dust--all of the details--in order to capture the feelings that I wanted to convey.
And it's not just artists. The best leaders and innovators will tell you the same thing: you must have vision to be successful. It is critical to understand vision, yet there is very little out there that explains what exactly it is.
Window Shadow - Victorville, California
This is the photograph I envisioned capturing even before arriving on location.
So what is vision? Vision is a vivid and imaginative conception. Let's take a closer look at this definition, starting with conception.
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
This is what I was capturing just before "Summer Mow" above. I had the idea to photograph a single wheat grass back lit with a low sun. I wanted some distant hills and trees at the bottom of the image and a little lens flare on the grass. I had to seek out the right location and make sure that everything was just as I wanted it.
Conception is the formation of a concept. This is where you have an idea and formulate a plan to implement that idea. This is where you design your photograph. This is both the dreaming phase and the interpretation phase.
Flight To The Sun - Phoenix, Arizona
It took a bunch of tries to get the airplane to appear to be being swallowed by the sun, which is the effect I was hoping for.
All great photographs start with a concept. No one ever randomly snaps thoughtless images and captures a great photograph. You must consider how you want the image to look. How are you going to frame the scene? What are you going to include and exclude? What equipment are you going to use? What are the settings going to be? What mood do you want to convey? What story are you going to tell? What point-of-view are you going to have?
Steadfast Movement - Mojave, California
I wanted to capture the movement caused by the wind with something the wind couldn't move. This was a photograph I'd been thinking about for several months. The location, time-of-day and weather had to be just right, and one day it was.
A mere concept, however, is not enough to have vision. That concept has to be imaginative. You must be creative! You must be inventive and original. If your photograph is not thoughtful, then it won't be successful. This is your moment to be an artist.
Man At Shoshone Point - Grand Canyon, Arizona
To help convey the vastness of the canyon, I photographed a man at the edge. Because you can empathize with him, you can experience the uneasiness of being there.
Finally, the imaginative concept must be vivid for it to be vision. You must clearly see in your mind's eye what the final print will look like, even before opening the shutter. If you don't know where you are going before you start, you will never arrive. You have to envision the end results at the very beginning.
Destroyed By Fire - Victorville, California
I knew there were some burnt structures at this location. In my mind, before arriving, I pictured photographing the burnt remains through a window opening. After some searching and at the second burnt building I found just what I was looking for. 
Vision is a clear and creative idea. Vision is a graphic and original interpretation. Vision is a lively and thoughtful design. Vision is making a great notion a reality. Vision is thinking ahead, then creating.
Crazy Bird - Caliente, California
I was photographing train cars as they slowly passed the stop sign. I saw this one coming when it was about six cars away and knew it was going to be special. I had to time it just right to get the graffiti where I wanted it.
How do you get photographic vision?
Hazy Canyon - Grand Canyon, Arizona
I didn't want "typical" Grand Canyon photographs. I pointed the lens at the haze, which had very little details, then bumped up the contrast and saturation until I had something dream-like.
It starts with actively photographing. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." That means the more you photograph, the more you'll naturally have vision. The more you photograph, the more you'll know exactly what you want to create and how to create it. You cannot attain vision sitting on your couch.
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
I wanted to juxtapose the abandoned structures at this location with signs of life. I found these leaves back lit with shadows behind them and the house with the shattered-glass window half in shadow. This isn't exactly what I had pictured in my head before arriving, but it beautifully fulfilled what I wanted to find. 
You should consider what your point-of-views, opinions or feelings are of what you are photographing, and think of ways to include those point-of-views, opinions or feelings into the photograph. You have a perspective in life that is unique to you--no one else sees things the exact same way that you do! Figure out how to put the uniqueness of you into your photographs.
Rock Band - Surprise, Arizona
I put the band in front of a freight container to give the image a more industrial look. I wanted each person to tell a different story, so I had to wait for the right moment when each one had a different expression.
Finally, if you could be known for just one photograph, what would that photograph look like? Close your eyes and imagine it. Pay close attention and note all of the details. Now open your eyes. Go create the photograph that you saw in your mind's eye--that is vision.
Two Saguaros - Goodyear, Arizona
I had to hike in the desert before sunrise to be in position to capture this image.
All of the photographs in this post required vision to create. Some images took research and planning and waiting, while others took seconds of consideration and a whim. Each one took some creativity, thought and seeing in my mind before opening the shutter what I wanted the finished photograph to look like. If you can do that, you have vision.


  1. It's funny that your camera reviews get so many more hits&comments.
    Here's the real gem. What attracted me to your blog was the photos themselves. No matter the camera, you just take great photos.
    Now I know my NX1000 is well enough to achieve great results - now, can I *see* that?

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, any camera, and the Samsung NX1000 is certainly included, can capture great images in the hands of a photographer with vision.

  2. Another great post, and worth reading more than once.

    1. Bron, thank you for your comment and kind words!