Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Importance of Pre-visualization and Scouting

When I started photography seriously about three years ago, I did like most people ... found a place I liked and walked around with my camera taking shots until I felt like I had exhausted the compositional possibilities. As a result, I would return from a shooting session with 500 photos of 500 different subjects and perspectives. Nowadays, I spend most of my time scouting a scene, and when the light is right I will shoot multiple images of the same scene. Sometimes the composition will be a tad different, or I may adjust my settings to accentuate the foreground or sky to create a blended exposure. The result, if I'm lucky, will be one solid image to publish in my portfolio. Scouting and pre-visualization are an art that takes time to master. Not only do you have to spend the time finding a solid composition, but also be able to visualize how that composition would look when framed and exposed in an entirely different lighting situation.

Here are a few examples. Move your mouse over the image to see the differences (for full functionality, a computer and mouse are necessary as this effect will most likely not function properly on iPad or mobile devices).

This first shot was taken in late morning at the Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park along the banks of the Virgin River. This is a scouting shot, and as you can see, although the composition looks good, the light is flat and the fall colors and sandstone peaks really don't stand out. But imagine how this would look in the predawn light, with a colorful sky, light on the cliff peaks, and a longer exposure for silky water motion. I returned to this spot 6 mornings in a row until I found what I was looking for. To create this image, I used a 15 second exposure for the water and foreground, and 1 second exposure for the sky.

Move your mouse over the image to see the result

The next example is at Toroweap, a remote location in the Grand Canyon. It was a rainy day, and I took several scouting shots in the afternoon without much hope of any good light at sunset due to the overcast conditions. See how the orange cast and reflection of the setting sun creates a dramatic, almost three dimensional, rendition of a scene that looked pretty dull during the day.

Move your mouse over the image to see the result

Southern Utah is full of interesting sandstone formations, including several areas known the the hoodoos. This location just a short hike from the highway presented a nice opportunity with the leading lines of the sandstone to bring the eye towards the hoodoo. As you can see in the scouting shot taken prior to sunrise, the lack of light and shadows make the photo very flat, and without enough contrast to really make it pop. But waiting just a few more minutes, as the sun rose above the horizon it gave a nice golden glow to the hoodoo, and just enough shadow to give a nice separation to the lines and really draw the viewer into the frame.

Move your mouse over the image to see the result

This last example was taken locally along the Atlantic Coast. I went out one morning for a sunrise shoot, hoping the partially overcast sky would give some nice light and color, but as you can see it was pretty dull so I instead focused on scouting for a composition for the next time I returned. This section of beach is studded with coquina, a type of limestone and gives a nice foreground, and reflects the light very well. To the casual viewer, this scouting shot represents little more than another ocean photo. There is no good color, contrast, or light. But what if the predawn light was more colorful, a strond west wind and incoming tide would cause a long exposure to show cloud streaks and a misty water over the rocks? That's what I envisioned, and returned a few weeks later when the conditions were right to get my shot.

Move your mouse over the image to see the result

We all know that a large component of photography is being in the right place at the right time. A good photographer will rely not only on luck, but also on careful planning, scouting, and visualizing in advance the shot he or she is after.


Anonymous said...

these are amazing!

Unknown said...

As a landscape and scenic photographer I agree with the visualization aspect. I too used to go to a place once and shoot it, think that if I got lucky I could get the good shot with 200 frames or more. I now return to places 2 or more times - some times dozens of times looking for the right conditions. Now I watch the weather radar online, check local weather reports, watch the sky all day long, and have a spot or destination in mind when I leave the house, camp, hotel, whatever. I now do less processing, less shooting on site, and can cover more ground effectively.

Unknown said...

This is a great post. Those mouseovers are killer. Guess I better start going to some places twice!

Unknown said...

I think this opened my eyes a bit. Thanks a ton!

LynzM said...

I agree with the above poster, this was seriously eye-opening. Those mouse-overs really, really drive the point home. Thanks for the thoughts and the inspiration!

Chris said...

You've revealed the secrets that true photographers have long known, but seldom shared. Excellent examples. Your points underscore Leonardo's quote that's seared into my mind, "There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when shown. Those who cannot see." Thanks for sharing your inspiration and wisdom.

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