It's all about the vision / by Neil Alexander

Imperial War Museum North, Neil Alexander - Click to view larger

 Thankfully last week, I finally finished the audio book of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that I've been listening to for the last two months, and so decided to move onto something a little less weighty. I've had Steven Pressfield's "Do the work" on my Audible wish list for a while now, so felt that this would be a good opportunity to dive into something a tad less dramatic.

There were a great many things that struck a chord in this somewhat concise but extremely effective book. Steven Pressfield for those of you who are not aware of him, is an American novelist and screenplay writer, most notably The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Killing Rommel and many more. Lately he has written several books that some would term "self-help" however I feel that that would be unfair and rather condescending. I would class them as inspirational and motivational.

One particular section of "Do the work" that really caught my attention, was where the author delves into tips he has learnt regarding writing screenplays and novels. He states: "Start at the end, and work backwards". At first glance, it might not seem very intuitive, but if you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense. If you're writing a movie, solve the climax first. If opening a restaurant, begin with the experience you want the diner to have when they have a meal. Answer the question, "What is this about?" When you know that, you'll know the end state. And when you know the end state, you'll be able to see the steps to take to get there.

Ryhl beach, Denbighshire at dawn - Click to view larger

And so to the point of all this.... Everything that Steven talks about here, is not only relevant to screenwriters and restaurant owners, but also entirely applicable to just about every creative field going including photography. One of the keys to great photography that I often prattle on about here is what photographers often term "pre-visualisation". This is essentially the depiction, in your mind's eye before you click the shutter, of what the finished outcome of your imminent button pressing is going to look like. If you like it's a mental step back. Picture the photograph framed and on a wall, or in the layout of a magazine, or wherever it's destined. How does it look? Is it colour, black and white, toned in some way? How does the composition look? Are there any specific details in front of you that are in some way highlighted in the final image? Is it portrait or landscape? It's a process of reverse engineering; once you can envision how the final image will look, then you can work it backwards figuring out your composition and post-processing and all the interim steps you need to take to make reach that final outcome.

Exactly the same way as a screenwriter would right; figure out the ending first and then what steps the plot needs to take to reach that conclusion.

It sounds simple when it's spelt out like that doesn't it? I can assure you it's not, but it's a technique that when you get practiced at, will guarantee you a far higher hit rate with your photographs than if you were just to "spray and pray".