Pre-visualisation and what it means to me / by Neil Alexander

successful example of pre-visualisation. Tyre by Neil Alexander

After watching Adam Barker's new bio video, I got to thinking about pre-visualisation again, and what it actually means to me as a photographer, and how effectively I use it, or not as is sometimes the case. If you're not sure what on earth I'm talking about then Juan Pons from over at the Digital Photo Experience does a really good outline here.

The renowned landscape photographer Galen Rowell puts the concept of pre-visualisation quite succinctly.

"Pre-visualisation does not necessarily mean that you have visited a location before, but that you pre-visualise the way the image will look on film before you take the photograph, instead of merely taking a snapshot with the naive expectation that the outcome will be like you see."

What I get from this is that initially you see the scene through your normal visual methods (read eyes) before you picture how the scene will look in a print or on screen. It's simply the way it is. However, for those that can "pre-visualise" an image in their mind, and then actively seek to reproduce a scene as they imagine it, the art of image making will inevitably take on a whole new level of accomplishment. For some it's a gift that they've been granted. For others, it's a technique that we have to work on, a lot.

So for me, pre-visualisation is hugely important. If I'm shooting a model for example, then more than likely I'll have scouted the planned location at least once, I'll have a good idea of what lighting I'll be using, and I'll have a feel for the model (metaphorically speaking). When I'm shooting landscapes, then it's often a completely different kettle of fish. Living in suburbia, on the edge of a big city, I am lucky to have the glorious Peak District around 45 minutes from my doorstep. I'm also on the edge of the Cheshire plains and suffer all the delights of the North West weather conditions to go with it. But these are pretty vast areas, although also rather too familiar, and as Aesop once said "familiarity breeds contempt". I am sufficiently over familiar with these areas, that I just can't visualise anything of any note, and those that I can are so over familiar to me that my mind tells me there's nothing to get there. As Confucius once said "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.".

Lately though, as I mentioned I've given more time to the topic and realised that the procedure of trying to envisage how the final product will look doesn't necessarily have to be restricted to the off location planning stage. Which is often what I do. I'll think "Ok, I've got a window on Friday morning. Forecast looks interesting. Landscapes. Where Shall I go........?" And I draw blanks because I am unable to immediately envisage a possible scene at a specific location. I'll use all the tools at my disposal, maps, google earth, flickr world and drive to a place that's new to me, or that I haven't visited in such a long time, that I can't really remember what it's like anyway. Scout around and then shoot away.

Now though, it's dawned on me that every time I click the shutter, I should be up on that pre-visualisation plane trying to imagine how I see the scene that stands before me looks in print. This requires you to understand how your focal length, aperture, shutter speed etc etc will affect what you see visually, and all those filters you have to hand, and even as far as how you'd like your scene to appear in post-processing. I guess past-masters of this skill can even "see" how a given frame will look in a red filtered black and white!

It's rather like constructing a building with out a blueprint. Unless the Architect prepares the blueprint, and understands what his construction limitations are, how can anyone create anything with any modicum of success.