Friday, September 10, 2010

Landscape photography: Planning and Previsualization

(I'm moving my newsletter to this blog. This was issue 3 of 17)

In landscape photography, planning and previsualization are very important to increase your odds, but things rarely turn out as you planned.  I read about this often.  Often times however, you must let go of your vision in order to make your own luck!

In the previous blog entry, I discussed the huge role (at least for me) that luck plays in the making of a good landscape photograph.  Sure, I have logged thousands of hours of practise, visualizing and planning.  However, most of the time I had only a vague idea of how the photos from a particular outing would turn out.  I'm sure that you've noticed that some photographers sure seem to have a lot of good luck.  The 'luckiest' photographers will tell you that planning ahead had a lot to do with that good luck. Planning ahead and having a vision of what you want are definitely prerequisites to finding a great image, but with millions of ways for plans to go awry, is there something else that can be done to improve the odds?  

Yes, you can improve the odds a lot by simply not getting 'married' to your vision.  This means that despite your investment in time and strategy, you must survey the situation when you arrive at your spot and make an honest assessment as to whether your plans will turn out the way you had hoped.  

For example, lets say that you've planned to go to a lake in the fall just when there will be the best colors of the year.  And after checking the weather, you realize that there will probably be a nice low fog covering the lake and filtering through the trees just like you saw last year at this time.  Not only that, but the moon will be setting just as the sun rises and there is a rock on the shore where the red and yellow leaves fall, providing a perfect foreground.  The mist will turn gold by the rising sun.  You have been waiting a year for this moment and you can just see that perfect shot!  And you get only one chance at this place this year.

So, you get up before sunrise and walk through the low tule fog to your spot.  Things are developing nicely as dawn approaches.  It is all so perfect.  A 1 in a million chance.  You set up the tripod, compose everything just as you had hoped and wait for the best light.

Suddenly, a faint breeze starts to blow and in just a minute or two, most of the fog is swept off the lake.  You get this sinking feeling as the events unfold.  Dawn continues to approach.  You must make a quick decision.  Do you sit there and wait for the fog to return for your dream shot, or try something else?  The answer depends on what else is around you.

At this point, the best thing is to completely let go of your vision regardless of how married you were to it.  This is not easy, but if you planned ahead of time to let go of your hard-earned vision, it is a lot easier!  At these times, I simply say to myself; "Okay, this is not going according to my plan, but this is a beautiful place.  What do I like best about it at this moment?"  I guess you can call it, 'Previsualized revisualization.'  In other words, anticipate that things will happen that you can not anticipate!

In this example, there is still a moon that is setting and some nice fall foliage that will be very well lit when the sun rises.  So I would keep looking around.  Perhaps there is a nice reflection of the foliage covered hills.  Maybe you were hoping to point towards the rising sun over the fog, but now the best light can be seen on the hills pointing away from the sun.  Just remember that nature does not care what about what you had planned, so you must go with what is served up for you.

An important thing is to keep a clear mind and open eyes.  Even though your vision may not ever be realized, the image you capture may be even better or at least a pleasant surprize.  Your exact vision was only one possibility in a billion anyway, and it was probably not #1 out of that billion.  Who can think of all possibilities?  But with an open mind, free from the previsualized gold chains you placed on yourself, you may capture a glorious moment you had not anticipated.

Don't get me wrong here, planning and previsualization are essential for increasing your odds of being in the right place at the right time.  I do it every time I go out.  Planning allows you to be in the right place when good things can happen, even if they are not exactly the good things you had visualized.  I would guess that about 25% of the time, what I see and hopefully photograph is at least somewhat like what I had in mind.  And about 5% of the time, my guess is fairly close.  The rest of the time, it is pure improvisation.  These numbers seem really low to me because I put a lot of time into planning and previsualization.  But that is fine because a big part part of the adventure of photographing the landscape is seeing and experienceing new things.

Below is a photo where I hiked down the cliff to below the level of the bridge to get close to a low fog and see the city under the bridge.  Then the fog dissipated.  But later as a fishing boat passed just after sunset, I put on a dark filter to make a 2-minute exposure showing the movement of the boat and repeating wave patterns in the foam.  I did not expect this at all but people really like it!

So, how do you create a new vision on the spot when you may not have much time left?  I'll leave that for the next blog entry.


Patrick Smith

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1 comment:

  1. Patrick,
    This is a great format and I like that you're moving the newsletter to the blog.

    Great articles... keep them coming!