Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pre-visualization in the 21st century

This post is written as a follow up to a Twitter discussion I had late last night. The discussion was hampered by the fact that Twitter only allows 144 characters for me to express my opinions. This post is not meant as a film vs. digital discussion and certainly not meant as a 'what is better' or 'I know best' post. It is just written to explain myself more thoroughly. And is written from a fine art photographer's perspective and not a commercial photographer's perspective.

Let me start with the beginning. This is the tweet in question.

So what did I mean by that?

First let us define what vision is because that's where a lot of people got hung up on. Vision is not only the way you process your photographs (but that's what most people think it is). What they actually mean though is something called style.

Let's call a cat a cat

Style is what you personally bring to the table in the post-processing part of your vision. And vision is the whole photo making process; from selecting a scene, to composing, to exposing, to post-processing to the complete printing process.

Another small part of the vision process is the pre-visualization or in short, visualization process. Which again, is practiced by only a small amount of photographers these days.

Before you get all angry about that, let me explain.

The definition for pre-visualization is that you see the final print or photo in your mind's eye before (that's what pre- means) you make an exposure. You are imagining the photo so to speak in your head. It is a very powerful tool. So powerful that when mastered, you almost don't need to take the photograph anymore. Or in other words, you immediately recognize a flawed composition or situation without the need to go through the motions of actually taking the photo or looking at the LCD to interpret the scene.

In today's day and age we seldom pre-visualize anymore. What we do is we post-visualize. In this case, post means after the shot has been taken.

I honestly hear it all the time on workshops.

ME: What are you photographing?
Student: I'm just making some test exposures.
ME: Great but what are you testing? Are you testing if your camera is still working?!

This is how I see most students work: they jump out of the car, grab the gear, set it up in a random spot and then they start snapping away. Barely moving inches. They shoot a test exposure and look at the back of the camera. Then they look for flaws and reposition or adjust their settings accordingly.

That is not 'working the scene'. That's post-visualizing and it does not make you a better photographer. You are skipping a whole bunch of steps. Have you walked around? Have you smelled, listened, felt the place you are photographing? Do you know what the scene is telling you, do you feel what it is trying to say? How are you going to translate that in your work? Do you know where to stand? Do you know if this is the right time of day for whatever you want to accomplish? All of that (and more) is part of the visualization process that is part of the bigger vision process.

When I ask them "how is the scene translating to the view you have in your head?" I get mostly blank stares. You see what most people do is they just register scenes. That's all they do. They come back with hundreds of variations of the same photograph without really being in the moment. Is that working a scene? I don't think so. Do all these photographs make them a better photographer? Not in the slightest bit.

This was how I worked too

I used to work like that too you know. I was often so dang sure of where to stand that I never walked around. I never explored further beyond what I was seeing. I took 100's of shots of the same thing, making sure I got the shot. Then, after coming home with thousands of photos of the exact same scene, trying to select a winner was a tough thing to do. I was throwing mud at a wall hoping some of it would stick. I was a 'spray and pray'-guy and I didn't even knew it.

Since returning to film, my workflow has changed drastically. I went back to the approach once taught to me in photo school.  Now I "work the scene" by using a viewing frame. Just a piece of card with a hole in it. On one of the last workshops I taught, I demonstrated this approach. My students were very skeptical to say the least. Some were even laughing. "Like a piece of cardboard can help me compose and see better?"

But by the end of the weekend I had most of them converted to using the frame. It took only seconds to make them see the potential of the $2 piece of card in the field.

You should try and make yourself a frame too. Just take a piece of black, white or neutral gray cardboard about 8.5x11" and cut a hole in the middle with the ratio you'd like to use in your work (2:3, 4:5, 5:7, ...). And use that while you walk around on your next photo trip. Make photos in your mind. Once you see something you like inside the frame, fine tuning it, move around a bit with the frame, exclude elements, simplify. Once you see what you want, then grab the camera and recreate what you saw in your frame in the viewfinder.

You will take far fewer shots, and I swear THAT will make you a better photographer!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy April Fools day

Yesterdays post was indeed a joke.

And maybe it was not the most obvious one at first, but no I didn't travel all the way to 'Fresno' to get 'the shot' of Tunnel View. I mean, c'mon.

This post was part of a larger scheme, set up by no other than +Jim Goldstein . About 10 others participated in the gag. Linking blogs to each other and basically what we were doing was posting the same shot over and over again.

It was our way of poking fun at the homogeneity of today's landscape photography scene where everybody is going after the low hanging fruits. And shooting copies of copies of copies of the same photograph. Where's the fun in that?!

Here are the links of all the participating photographers.

Jim Goldstein

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Ken Cravillion

Jim Sabiston

Eric Fredine

Floris van Breugel

Richard Wong

Youssef Ismail

Gary Crabbe

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tunnel View

A few weeks back I had to go to Fresno California for work. It was one of those dreaded last minute deals. Fly in early, fly out the day after. When I was looking at the map, I realized that Yosemite National Park was like a stone's throw away. Needless to say, I took the 4x5 in the hopes I got some free time!

I landed, got the rental, drove to the press shop, did the press check (all was well, yay!) and drove straight to Yosemite in the early afternoon hoping on some good evening light. I was hoping on a first stop at Tunnel View but the crowds where just too massive for me to get out of the car and even bother. I was just flabbergasted by the insanity that is going on there. So I continued on my way. Exploring a little deeper. Driving through the park is such an amazing experience. I had never been so I gave myself ample time to look around. There's so much stunning beauty around you in that park, it's crazy. I understand now why Ansel Adams was so inspired by this place. The word 'spectacular' doesn't even begin to comprehend what I felt in this place.

In late afternoon, I ended up back at the classic Tunnel View parking lot. Wow, the crowds where still there! Ugh. Just disgusting. There were about 50 other photographers there, all interlocking tripods, all trying to get their own famous shot. Just brutal! I debated driving away but then I noticed my friend, and fellow photographer Colleen Miniuk-Sperry. I've been supporting Colleen for a while now and I've always admired her unique eye. I parked the car and swung my pack on my back and walked towards her. Sneaking up behind her I said: "You know Colleen, Ansel would have never used a digital camera". She froze, turned around, and then saw it was me. We chatted for a bit about photography and both our future plans. After she was done she gracefully offered up her spot in the lineup. I was a bit hesitant but then I thought, I didn't came all this way for noting, so why not?

So there I was standing in between photographers using the latest and greatest in digital gear. I heard nothing but shutters. One after the other. It was like the sound of a million mosquitoes. I wondered why they took so many succeeding photographs. I used to be like that. Now I know better.
I took my viewing frame out of my bag. The guy next to me gave me a weird look. I started composing with my frame and heard some laughing behind me but I didn't care. Then I opened up the bag and grabbed the 4x5 and a 180mm lens.

"Do people still use film?"
"Can you still get that stuff?"
"Ugh I remember those days, it was so hard to get a perfectly exposed negative".
I smiled. Some photographers just don't get it. And started to set up the camera.

A few minutes later, the low light became super dramatic, casting shadows all over the place. I was imagining the guy next to me to be Ansel. What would he have done? Then I heard somebody say "use the #25 Oli". I looked over my shoulder and there was my friend Ken Cravillion! Geez. You gotta be kidding me! I screwed on the #25 as suggested by Ken. Metered the light, made my composition and snapped two negs.

I packed up and just like Colleen, gave my spot to Ken. That's what friends do right? I waited around for Ken to finish his photo. He shared his unique version of this place with me yesterday. Dang that looks amazing Ken! You are such a talented photographer!

Take a look for yourself and tell me what you think of his rendition in the comments.

After Ken finished up, about 20 minutes later, we were able to catch up for a bit. It was getting dark  and I told him I was flying out tomorrow and had to get back to the hotel in Fresno.

It was just such a whirlwind of a trip but I'm happy I've seen the scene that has made Ansel famous.

I just finished developing the negative over the weekend and scanned it in on Sunday. Man what a beautiful sight. Super happy with how it turned out. That red filter was indeed the correct choice Ken.

Or maybe, ... Ansel was looking over my shoulder after all...