creativity

Finding Your Vision

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This is my vision.
This is my vision.

“Finding Your Vision” is the title of one of the presentations I give from time to time around Camera Clubs and Photographic Societies. This particular presentation is however about 5 years old and with an upcoming presentation in June I need to bring it up to date. The core message of the presentation is however unchanged and states “your performance as a photographer is based on three aspects of photography that are inter-related”.

The three aspects that I am referring to are:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Vision
  3. Skills

Your weakest area will be the one that limits your performance. Unfortunately as photographers we tend to focus (no pun intended) on the third one; skills.

Now let me take a moment to define Inspiration and Vision as these are often confused so I need to make my definitions nice and clear.

Inspiration is the motivation you have to pick up a camera and take a picture. What is it that inspires you to do this? Why do you take pictures? Is it a feeling or is it that you are trying to achieve something? And keep in mind that not all subjects inspire everyone to the same level. I am very motivated by capturing wide open outdoor spaces. Still life photography, action photography and quite a few others don’t inspire me so my performance will always be second rate with these subjects.

This is actually the reason for the image above which I will be incorporating into my new presentation. This is typically a scene that inspires me to reach for my camera.

Vision is effectively how you imagine the scene when you come to photograph it and this will cause you to answer questions such as how should I frame the subject, what mood do I want to convey etc. Other aspects of vision include imagining how you want the finished image to look once it has been processed without worrying how to process it. Vision is linked to inspiration as if you are not inspired by a subject you won’t spend the time to develop your vision of the scene.

Returning to the image above, here is the starting image. Hardly exciting but to me it was. I know it was because I took around 100 images trying to catch the right moment. You see I had a vision of the finished image.

Starting image
Starting image

When I decided to take this image I did so because I was inspired by the location. I then had to decide how I wanted to capture and represent it i.e. develop my vision. When I came to actually process it I refined my vision further.

Examine the image and I hope you will see that I like reflections, clouds and other aspects of the outdoors. I also hope you can see that my vision is about trying to simplify the elements of the scene. I like order, balance and symmetry which is why I have placed the horizon in the centre of the frame and tried to emphasise the reflections of the clouds. I have also tried to compose the clouds so that they are balanced on the left and right of the frame with the water movement emphasised in the centre. The colours in the scene were too intense so I switched to black and white which also helped me emphasise the elements in the frame. I could have pushed this emphasis further but this again is not my vision. I like the processing to appear more believable even though they are quite a departure from reality.

The final element of my trio is skill. If you don’t have the skills to capture and post process your then you will struggle to realise it. We have all had times where we have an idea for an image but it never looks quite how we want it to. This is because we don’t have the skills yet to achieve our vision or perhaps we didn’t slow down sufficiently to employ our skills fully.

Next time you are wondering how to improve your photography come back to these three points:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Vision
  3. Skills

Find your weakness and develop it.

Is this the biggest compact camera advantage

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View from the Summit of Kidsty Pike

Some years back I made a startling discovery. I was finding that when presented with the same location, photographers with compact cameras often produced better photographs than those with expensive SLR’s. At first I dismissed this as a fluke but then I started to notice this scenario again and again at all sorts of locations.

Now when I say better, it would be easy to dismiss this as being personal preference. Yes there might have been some of this at work but others also seemed to agree. It’s also worth me pointing out that when I say better photographs I am not referring to qualitative such as sharpness of image or colour rendition or noise free images. What I am really talking about is composition which after all is the cornerstone of photography. People with compact cameras were regularly finding better compositions than photographers with more expensive equipment and quite often years of experience.

There are a couple of factors that I think might have been at work here:

  1. Experienced photographers who often have “superior” equipment can restrict their creativity by thinking the image that would be produced will be of an inferior quality so they don’t try the shot. The less experienced photographer just takes the shot because they like the image and quality is a secondary (if that) consideration. They just want to take a nice photograph.
  2. The way you use a small compact camera is very different to the way you use a DSLR. With the compact camera you hold it away from you and view the image on the LCD. This gives you great freedom of movement and you tend to move in towards the subject so that it fills the frame. You also tend to twist and turn the camera easily until you find the most appealing composition. With the DSLR you hold this to your eye which is often held at eye level and further away from the subject. Holding the camera to your eye also steadies it but tends to restrict the movement because it requires you move your head and entire body. I believe this limits the compositions you will try and chances are, prevent you from finding the best one.

Back in the “olden days” of film we often used cards with windows cut into them to explore composition but I haven’t seen anyone do this for a long time. If you are a hardened DSLR user you might want to consider using a compact camera as a compositional aid.

As for the image here, it was shot on my GX1 with an Olympus 9-18 lens and shows the view from the summit of Kidsty Pike in the Lake District. Had I been using a DSLR I doubt I would have moved in quite so close to the foreground rocks and I doubt the image would have had quite so dynamic a composition.

I should also have said to click on the image and zoom in. I have posted a slightly larger file than usual. When you view it a full size it gives a greater feeling of depth.