Tutorial Learn Photography Previsualization 01. Logo. David Osborn

Previsualization

PHOTOGRAPHY PREVISUALIZATION TUTORIAL

Previsualization was made famous by American photographer Ansel Adams and his Zone System. Previsualization is having the ability to imagine the final image in your mind at the camera, before taking the photograph.

Would we approach creating a novel by just writing thousands of random words? Then read those words hoping to find a story. No. Yet photographers taking lots of random photographs, hoping to find a good one during editing, are taking that gamble.

Previsualization is having a clear idea, then communicating that idea in the photograph. This forces you to take less images, but high quality images. Having a clear concept, gives you clarity of purpose in the production process; saving wasted time and increasing quality.

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Previsualization: Create Order Out of Chaos

Previsualization 01. The Theater Stage

Think of creating photographs as managing a theater stage performance. You walk in and all the actors are on stage. No-one knows who the lead actor is, who the supporting cast is, even the painters and carpenters are all on stage. The backdrop is unfinished, music, talking, noise everywhere. Total and absolute chaos with no order or control! Your role as the photographer is to take control of the situation fast, turn the total chaos into order, then deliver a polished performance that the audience will love and understand. Take control, impose your will. Be aggressive. “You stand there, you are the main actor. You five are the supporting cast, stand over there. Everyone else off stage, this is what we’re going to do!”

Previsualization 02. The Lead Actor

Nominate the main subject of your photograph, the main actor. This is the reason for taking the picture, its purpose, its story. The idea. The castle, a village, whatever it is; but there must be a main actor, or you have no photo. Would we watch a stage play with no lead actor, there would be no focal point if just a mass of supporting cast and the stage backdrop? There would be no plot, no story. However, our main actor has a real serious ego problem. He is happy to work with a lead actress, but apart from that, he seriously, does not like any competition. He wants all the lime-light, he wants everyone to look at him. Nominate a secondary hero to tell the story, but everything else, is strictly supporting cast only.

Previsualization 03. The Supporting Cast

Having decided our main hero and our secondary hero or lead actor, then everything else is either supporting cast or generic stage backdrop. The supporting cast are the objects that help support the story, but are not the main feature, they set the environment, context, geographic signature. The stage backdrop is the background scene that still adds valuable information to the story, like where the image is taken. The role of the supporting cast and stage lighting is to stroke the ego of the main actor, making him look great. However, the supporting cast also want to be lead actors; we must ‘de-emphasize’ to keep them in their place; out of the main spot-light as secondary information.

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Tutorial Learn Photography Previsualization 03. London. David Osborn
St Georges Wharf, London

Previsualization: Think First, Shoot Second

Previsualization 04. The Problem

When we take our photographs, there must be something that triggered us to do so. We want to show friends where we went on our holiday, etc. We have a motivation; that could be loosely described as an idea. Books need a conscious, more thought out idea first, because it is the idea that makes you choose what words to use. This forces a ‘think first, act second’ logic, making it more thoughtful and slower. This is also true of painting, sculpture almost everything. However, the camera is unique because it does not force this ‘think first, act second’ logic on you; indeed, we do not need to think very much at all to get a digital image. Photographs are taken for a reason, so they must contain some idea.

Previsualization 05. The Solution

The problem is that, the process allows for production before thought; the lack of thought first, does not stop production like it would if writing a book or painting. This is the biggest and most common mistake, the concept of ‘take lots of photos and have fun with it’ approach. The lack of thought is a true disaster and is what separates a good from a bad photographer, intent. The first part of taking a photograph, is thinking about what you are doing. Treat taking a photograph, like writing a book. What do you want to say? Before touching the camera, write down in no more than 50 words, what the story of your photograph is. Write the photographs caption first, then take the photo!

Previsualization 06. Fifty Word Caption – First

Writing a 50-word caption will clarify your concept (even if just written mentally, not on paper). If you can’t sum up what you want to communicate in a 50-word caption when looking at the scene, and before touching the camera, then you simply have no idea why you are taking the image. A photographer with no idea, produces photos with no idea. What I call a, ‘so what’ pictures, pointless. No different to writing a book without a story! Is that a book you want to read? Make one photo, one story. Get the single-story line clear in your mind first, then ask, how can I communicate this story, visually in my image, and in the simplest way possible? Now, you are going to produce great images because they have clarity.

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Tutorial Learn Photography Previsualization 04. Italy. David Osborn
Montecatini Spa, Italy

Previsualization: Simple, Strong Pictures

Previsualization 07. One Picture: One Story

If we try to communicate a confused concept or too many ideas in a single image, we end up failing to communicate anything at all. The lack of clear concept, means we have composed a photo containing irrelevant information or too much information. An inefficient image. The clearer we keep the idea, the more simple we can make the final composition and simple compositions have far less information to communicate; so they do so faster. Simple compositions will grab the viewers’ attention because their simplicity makes them graphically bold, making the viewer stop and look. The first requirement of all photographs which leads us to then examine and explore the picture; making us become captivated.

Previsualization 08. Keep Compositions Simple

Everything in a photograph either works for the image or against the image. The key is to compose the photograph with only the content that adds to the image, cropping out all that detracts. Look for the minimum number of visual components required to tell us the story. Take one more out and the story would be lost. Think of the photograph as a game of ‘Jango’. How can I remove as much as possible from the image, before the image and idea ‘falls down’; the point where there is not enough content to convey your concept. That point, but just one step back is your maximum composition. It contains the least amount of irrelevant content, yet enough to communicate your concept. Strength through minimalism.

Previsualization 09. Keep Compositions Balanced

Having now crystallized our idea, then used that clarity to dictate where to stand (in order get the most minimal composition that still communicates our story), the last step is to refine the composition to a much greater level of accuracy. The composition is dictated by the lead actor, placing him in the best position, balanced and harmonious within the whole frame. Then checking that the supporting cast are included satisfactorily, and none are cropped by the picture frame. Finally, we need to check how every object interacts with each other, giving each its own personal space, clean outline and harmony with the objects they intersect. A cohesive overall balance that works harmoniously.

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Tutorial Learn Photography Previsualization 05. Scotland. David Osborn
Highlands, Scotland

Previsualization: Imagine the Final Print

Previsualization 10. Factor in Photoshop

We previsualize the scene as a final print, meaning after the post-processing. We judge ‘what it could become’ not ‘what it is now’. Not what we see literally standing in front of us now. The scene is only the raw material, our starting point for the final photograph. In order to previsualize the final print, we need to post-process the scene in our mind first, before shooting it. Running through the transformations that we could make, before making a final judgement. In most cases, images that ended up as beautiful, fine art photographs never hit me that way when behind the camera. The potential of ‘what they could become’ in my mind did, but the literal view at the time of shooting did not.

Previsualization 11. Listen to Your Instincts

Judge what you previsualize after post-processing on two levels. First, listen to your instincts. Don’t look at the detail, judge the feel, the mood. What do your instincts tell you? Does the picture feel right? Does it make you feel excited, or are they telling you, that it just really isn’t there? If your instincts give you any cause to worry, those worries won’t be removed in post-processing. Your instincts are telling you something is missing. In post-processing we can only enhance what we have, we cannot make what we never shot, so it must feel ‘right’ at the camera. If your instincts give you a ‘green light’, then be more rational, look at the detail and analyze the problems you face to create the image you previsualize.

Previsualization 12. But, Ask Yourself Hard Questions

Imagine the final photograph you previsualize on a gallery wall. Imagine visitors take great delight in finding things wrong with the photographs. What would all their comments be? What would they find wrong with the photograph? Is it a complete image, or is there a feeling it lacks something? Try to be impartial, separating yourself from the image and be very critical. Don’t allow excuses to justify things you really don’t like. Ask yourself, Would I spend my money on buying this photo? Harsh questions, but questions giving you instant answers and clarity about the potential of the scene you are looking at and the photo you previsualize. If you would buy it, have faith others would. If you find it boring, others will.

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Tutorial Learn Photography Previsualization 06. England. David Osborn
Cotswolds, England

Previsualization: Picture Planning

Previsualization 13. Primary Research

The obvious starting point for any research is the internet, do a Google image search for the region you are interested in. What I look for are the most famous local landmarks, buildings, chateau’s, castles etc. The main actor or hero of our picture. It must have a strong geographic signature to show where the photograph is taken. The most famous local landmarks will appear repeatedly. Having searched for all the areas of interest, we create two lists based on their importance; ‘must do’ locations and ‘secondary locations’. We can now mark each location on a map, join-the-dots and see a natural route appear that is the most efficient journey to cover all the locations required.

Previsualization 14. Secondary Research

I then check each location on Google Earth. Google Earth has great features. Where ever the mouse pointer is, the longitude and latitude are displayed. This can then be set on a car SatNav or handheld GPS to get you to that exact point, even in the dark. You can zoom in, pan down and rotate around your feature with the horizon and surrounding hills shown. Three dimensional views will preview how your composition will look. The ‘sunlight across the ground’ is a feature that can be used to calculate the best time of day to photograph, making your route plan even more efficient for timing. Some locations even have 3d models. All of this is to cut down on wasted time and maximize your picture taking time.

Previsualization 15. Now the Clever Bit!

If we know the angle of view for our lens we can use this information with Google Earth, or indeed any map to help planning. We can use the information to answer two types of question. “What would be included in my iamge, if I stood here? or “Where do I need to stand, so that all this content is included?”. How can we do this? We need to set the lenses angle of view on a variable angle protractor. Where the ‘legs’ of the triangle come together, and pivots represents our ‘camera position’. By moving this ‘camera position’ around a map, the ‘legs’ now show what is included in our picture, or by placing the ‘legs’ to cover the content we need, the ‘camera position’ tells us on the map, where we need to stand.

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