Sunday, January 2, 2011

Two Kinds of Shooters (at least)

Perry's Cove, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada, Dec. 28, 2010

In your reading about photography have you come across the idea of pre-visioning or imagining your shot in advance and then going after it? Sometimes it is treated as a prerequisite for good image-making. Certainly it is a valid method and one practiced by many excellent photographers, but rarely do I practice it, and I certainly don't see it as a "essential secret" to making strong images.

I think its closely connected to your ability to imagine visually. Some are very good at it, others less so. For example, my wife might suggest that we move the couch from here to there, or to paint the walls a particular shade of whatever. She can actually see the change in her mind's eye. She can make a disturbingly (to me) accurate guess at how it will work out. It's a gift, but one that is not as strong in me. I have to move the damn couch to its new location and then assess whether it works or not. She can do the whole thing in her head, which is a whole lot easier on the back.

So some photographers have this gift and others lack it, or have a weaker capacity for it. My point is that there are two kinds of photographers: one that pre-visions the image and then proceeds to create it, and the other (like me) that is more reactive to the world around us. In my (perhaps self-serving) opinion, one is not necessarily any better than the other.

While "pre-visioning" is totally valid, I think we need to guard against it over-ruling your spontaneous reactions to our ever-changing world. Also I think we can all work at "active seeing". Active seeing is letting your imagination and the environment interact freely; it is letting go of preconceptions and embracing discovery; it is seeing with all of your being and total engagement.

When I go out shooting, very rarely am I thinking about a particular subject. I'm mostly responding to, and interacting with, what I encounter, especially the light. Once I find something that merits shooting, I work with it to find the best composition, lighting and so on, but it is not as though I imagined it all beforehand. It is reactive photography.

This said, I am not diminishing the importance of preparation and anticipation, two key ingredients for any kind of successful image-making. Preparation involves having the right gear, being in the right place at the right time, having the batteries charged and much more. Anticipation involves pointing your camera in the right direction, framing the shot in readiness for some action, choosing the best exposure settings, foreseeing the behaviour or movement of an animal or person, being ready for the "decisive moment". These are requirements for all of us whether you are a skilled pre-visioning photographer or a more reactive one.

Also one way of shooting can be more important than the other depending on the situation. For example, when I'm on assignment, I will prepare a shot list to ensure that I comply with the needs of the client. I might then imagine how to shoot a particular subject - time of day, soft light, hard light, key elements of the composition and so on. But even then, I leave a lot to my spontaneous reaction to the location.

So this is not about good or bad, strong or weak. It is about recognizing your own capabilities and using them to create images that reflect your individual view of the world, your style, your passion, and not getting bent out of shape about your ability to envisage the perfect shot in your mind's eye beforehand.

By the way, my wife is a good photographer too.

Minty Nature Photography

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