Improve Your Photography Part 2: Pre-Visualisation

How to Improve Your Photography Part 2 – Pre-Visualisation

Welcome to Part 2 – Pre-Visualisation – of my series of articles aimed at helping improve your photography skills.  The link to Part 1 – How to find good landscape photography locations to shoot can be found by clicking here

Pre-visualisation of a potential  image can really help improve our chances of capturing a satisfying image, as well as improve our “seeing” of images when we are at a location.  We learn to critique what we see in front of us and our final images and, in so doing, challenge ourselves to improve our photography and our skills.

Weather Forecasts – Light and Shadows

Like many, I only have limited time available for my photography and, rather than leave things to luck, I want to ensure that each time I head out with my camera I have as good a chance as possible of capturing some great images.  To do this I need decent light and a decent location.  So, first things first, I pore over weather forecasts.  What I am looking for, more often than not, is sun and broken cloud cover, as this should offer interesting lighting conditions with sun and shadow across the landscape, and a more pleasing sky than simply a bland white cloud cover or a clear blue sky.  

If you can find a weather front moving through then you can really be onto a winner as that is likely to offer some more dramatic lighting, such as in the images below.  For me, it is the light and shadow that makes the images.

Blues and Golds west wittering

Location, Location, Location…

I am always on the look out for new photography locations, and new compositions at old locations – perhaps something I missed last time or something new this time if features have changed at the location.  

Sometimes, a view will catch my eye, but I may not be completely sure what it is I like about it.  I have trained myself to stop and consider the view, as if I am looking through a camera’s viewfinder – sometimes I will frame the view with my hands to provide a rectangle mimicking the view through the camera.  It may be the light – I personally find I am particularly drawn to contrasting light and shadow, or it may be contrasting colours, or a feature offering good lead in lines.  The image below has all of these things.

I will then consider how I might like to capture the image. First off, am I in the right position?  Or by moving around a little can I find a better composition or angle to capture the image from?  Can I capture all the features in front of me without chopping off the top of a building or tree?  Do think about such simple things as subconsciously to the viewer of the final image they can make a more pleasing image to the eye.

Visualise the Scene in Front of You Differently to how you are currently seeing it

Are there any changes that I think might improve the final image in terms of lighting, clouds, natural features and so on? If I am at the coast, for example, what difference to the image would high or low tide make?  How would more or fewer clouds improve or detract from the image and if I wait a short while might this occur?  How would different lighting change the final image – would more muted lighting suit it more, or would it be better with brighter lighting?  How would capturing the image in the morning, with lighting from the sun in the east change things compared to evening lighting from the setting sun in the west – what would be lit differently and how might this alter the image for better or worse?  Why would that be better or worse?  Really try to start questioning the image making process in some detail.

Perhaps it might be helpful to talk through a couple of images to see the process as it unfolds for me.  So here goes with a simple one to start:

This image is of the sea defences near Littlehampton in West Sussex.  I had arrived at about lunchtime and captured a passing storm, with some lovely rough seas and dramatic lighting – you can see some of the other images in my Water Gallery by clicking here –  Water

But having visited the scene before, I knew I wanted to capture the sea defences at high tide with a long exposure.  In my mind I had visualised that the static sea defences would give structure and interest to the scene and the long exposure would smooth out the sea and sky but introduce movement.  In doing so this would offer a calm, tranquil scene.  It needed to be at high tide otherwise it would be a very dull, flat expanse of sand and wooden structures – a high tide was essential.

I was unsure what colour the final image would be but shooting at dusk introduced a beautiful cool colour cast.  The image was shot with a big stopper and the lens stopped right down giving almost a 5 minute exposure. I love the final image but for some time wondered what a shot taken nearer sunset would do in terms of introducing more colour.  A second trip back produced this image to quell my interest! It has a slightly different composition and on reflection I prefer the first one, but I also feel there is scope for a really interesting shot at dusk giving a more pink/purple hue, so this is on my watchlist for a further visit when conditions seem suitable.

Which do you prefer?  And, perhaps more importantly, why do you prefer it?

To give another illustration of pre-visualisation, there is a lovely windmill on top of the South Downs near me called Halnaker Windmill.  I have visited it on a few occasions for photography and the view is wonderful, picking up the spire of Chichester Cathedral in the mid ground and then all the way to the sea and the Isle of Wight.

On my previous visits I had captured some nice, but not overly pleasing images of the windmill.  On a visit one summer evening the wheat crop surrounded the windmill looking very photogenic but the sun setting round to the west did not light up the windmills white sails – possibly its best feature in my view.  This led me to pre-visualise how I might like it capture the image – what would I need to get the perfect image?

I knew I liked the wheat fields so that meant a summer shot before the harvest. I knew I wanted to capture the white sails lit up by the sun, which meant a morning shot as the sun in the summer sets too far round to the west to illuminate them. I knew that as the white sails were such a good feature it would be good to highlight them further so a good way to do this would be to have a dark, brooding sky behind them.  However, a dark sky with little sun would offer no contrast on the landscape and would darken down the wheat.  So, this meant photographing the windmill after a weather front had moved through, as this might give me sunlight and a brooding sky.  Putting this all together, meant I knew the ideal shot for me would be a summer shoot, in the early morning, after a weather front had moved through. Into the memory bank – or excel spreadsheet for as and when these conditions were forecast.

Sadly the sails were removed – probably health and safety ! – before I had the chance to capture the image as I had visualised it.  However, if you can get into the habit of doing this at every location you visit you will soon have a large bank of pre-visualised shots waiting to be photographed.  When the weather/tide conditions/time allows you just have to recall these memories/compositions and decide which one to head to.  In doing so, you improve your chances of capturing the shot you want, as everything is more in your favour than just trusting to luck !

Good luck and look out for the next article in the series.

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