Merging Images – Part 3: From Pre to Post Visualization

April 6, 2016 ·

Alain Briot

Let us not be afraid to allow for post-visualization. By post-visualization I refer to the willingness
on the part of the photographer to revisualize the final image
at any point in the entire photographic process.
Jerry Uelsmann

1 – Introduction

I decided to write an essay about the changes that my workflow went through over the years as a follow up to my two previous essays which were descriptions of my current workflow. The goal of this third essay is to clarify things about my approach to photography by providing background information which I hope you will find useful and enlightening.

While my previous essays were about how I do what I do, the essay you are reading now is about why I do what I do.  It is about the reasons behind my approach to processing rather than about the steps I follow when I process my images.

Superstitions Sunset
Superstitions Sunset

2 – Pre-visualization, really?

I always had an uneasy feeling when someone mentions pre-visualization.   Pre means before, so pre visualization means before visualization. But how can you visualize something before you visualize it?  And if so, aren’t visualization and pre-visualization one and the same?  I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the differences between the two.  To be honest I just don’t see the difference.  Maybe I don’t get it because I am not a native speaker. Maybe I don’t get it because I have a different idea of what visualization is.  Maybe I don’t get it because there is nothing to get.

For me visualizing is seeing something.  Therefore pre-visualizing means seeing before I see.  Since I can’t see before I see, pre-visualization doesn’t make sense to me.  For me visualizing and pre-visualizing is the same thing.  Maybe there is a way to see before you see and if so pre-visualization would mean pre-seeing and it would make sense.  But this way of thinking just doesn’t work for me.

The traditional way of explaining pre-visualization, the way Ansel Adams explained it, is to say that we see the final print in our mind’s eye before we see it on paper.  In other words we visualize the print before we actually make the print and see the print.  The word ‘print’ was used when photography was a chemical process because the final outcome was always a print. Now that photography is a digital process it is best to use the word ‘image’ because the final outcome can be an image on screen as well as a print on paper or some other substrate.

Back then, in film days, visualizing was necessary because knowing what you wanted the final print to look like before tripping the shutter was the only way to get the image to look the way you wanted.  In other words the process was defined by the desired outcome. One had to make choices about every aspect of image creation — from composition to exposure settings to film development and finally to printing — before releasing the shutter otherwise the desired result could not be attained.

In other words, if you want result ‘D’ and D can only be obtained by doing A + B + C, then you have to do A + B + C.  Otherwise, if you do say G + A + H you will obviously not get D because D can only be obtained by A + B + C.

Indian Paintbrush and Sandstone Formations
Indian Paintbrush and Sandstone Formations

Easy enough. However several things bother me about this approach to photography.

First, this is a very rigid approach.  Not only do you have to know what you want the print to look like before you trip the shutter, you also have to know the process you need to follow on the tip of your fingers. This means that a lot of study and practice are necessary in order to master the process. It also implies that this process is not accessible to beginners.  Beginning photographers who want to follow this process are likely to fail because of their lack of knowledge and experience.

Second, following this approach means that your thinking process is focused on technical matters because the process of going from A to D by doing A + B + C (to follow my previous example) is technical.  It consists of getting the correct exposure, the correct film development and the correct printing procedures.  While the photographer’s motives may be artistic, most of his or her thoughts are consumed by technical procedures, numbers and formulas.

Third, this process does not allow for post-visualization (I suppose this is why it is called pre-visualization).  If you change something in the process of getting to D by not doing A + B + C you will not get to D.  You will get something else but this ‘something else’ will most likely be technically imperfect because technically perfect results are dependent on following the process to the letter.

In other words there is no room for change because changing the process means changing the results.  If after seeing the final print you decide that the outcome is not what you wanted, the only solution is to return to the location, pre-visualize it differently (if such a thing exists) and start the process all over again with different technical variables.

Hoodoos
Hoodoos

3 – Problems and solutions

For me these problems are amplified by the digital process.  This amplification takes several aspects.

First, because I can do so much more to a digital capture than to a film capture pre-visualization becomes an exercise in futility.  The computer opens so many avenues for creativity that considering all the possible ways that I can transform a specific image is virtually impossible.  How can I possibly think of all the possibilities in the field while I am trying to capture the light before it fades away?

Second, the digital process negates the need to pre-visualize the final image.  As long as the capture is composed, focused and exposed properly I can pretty much do whatever I want with it later on. This leaves me free to focus on the capture itself.  With digital, capturing the scene in front of me is what really matters. My number one priority is finding an artistically pleasing composition, exposing the image correctly and making several exposures in case I want to do an HDR merge.  There is no need to consider how the image will be processed.  I can do that later on without any penalty.

Antelope Canyon #1
Antelope Canyon #1

Third, there is no need to pre-visualize the final image because I am creating art, not working on a commercial assignment.  As such I am not required to give a description of the final image in the field to a client the way I would if I was contracted to create a specific photograph.  I create art to express myself and my emotions, not to answer the needs of a client.  As such knowing or not knowing what I want to do with the photographs I capture is privy to myself.  Only the final result matters.  How the final image was created, what went on in my mind, and whether I was able to pre-visualize the final image or not is not something I am obliged to share.  I can share it if I want to, which is what I am doing here, or I can keep it private, which is what I do at other times.

4 – Right and Wrong Expectations

Another reason why pre-visualization in the field has lost its interest (for me) is because the way I feel about an image back in my studio is often different than the way I felt about that image in the field.  When I look at my photographs on my computer I often like different images than those I liked in the field. While it is cool to see an image on an LCD screen in the field, it is much more inspiring to see this same image on a large, color calibrated monitor in my studio.  The LCD screen on the back of the camera is far from showing the image at its best.  Contrast and color is off, detail is low and of course the image is very small.  This means that a lot is left a lot to my imagination in regards to what the image really looks like from both an artistic and a technical standpoint.

When I see the images on my studio monitor I see the real image.  Nothing is left to my imagination.  I see if it is properly exposed and focused, I see the composition, I see if the color is to my liking once I balance it properly and more. In other words, I see everything.  Sometimes this is good news and sometimes this is bad news.  Images I had high hopes for sometimes prove to be substandard while images I disregarded turn out to be real winners.  This points out the futility of pre-visualization by demonstrating that nothing can be taken for granted until we look at the final image itself.

In fact the images I thought would be keepers when working in the field are often different from those I actually consider keepers back in my studio.  I was shocked when I realized that this is similar to what I went through when I was shooting film.  Back then I had no way of seeing what I captured until the film was developed. However, when I looked at the transparencies I was often disappointed because the images I thought were winners often turned out to be sub par, while images I did not think much of where the best ones.  It is interesting that now that I can see the results in the field I go through the same experience.

Antelope Canyon #2
Antelope Canyon #2

5 – Quantity Of Images

Another thing that makes pre-visualization more difficult with digital than with film is the large quantity of images I capture with digital.  I shot far less images with film than I do with digital.  When I used film, if I came home after a weeklong trip with 20 rolls of 35mm film (600 images) or 20 rolls of medium format transparencies (150 images) or 50 sheets of 4×5 film (50 images) that was about the maximum for me. I also used only one camera during a shoot, two at the most.  Today I shoot with a medium format digital camera, two 35mm digital cameras, a Fuji X100s and an iPod and coming home with a total of 4000 images has become normal.

The problem with coming home with that many images, let’s say 4000 versus 1000 which is 4 times more, is that I cannot remember each and every image I captured, from there.  Therefore, those I remember are somewhat arbitrarily selected, most of the time in a rush and not always for valid reasons. As a result that choice almost always turns out to be different when I am back in the studio and I can look at all my images in a composed manner.

6 – Changes

These changes are part of what made me rethink the concept of pre-visualization.  As I said the concept of pre-visualization did not make much sense to me when I was shooting film.  It makes even less sense now that I shoot digital.  It has become clear to me that most of the creative decisions I need to make about an image can be delayed until I am back in my studio.  If so, why do I have to think in the field about all the steps I will be taking to go from the capture to the final print?  Fact is, there is no need to do so.  With digital I am free to focus on capturing the image in a creative manner rather than worry if the processing part will turn out ok or not.  Unless I really mess up in the field, by massively under or over exposing, not focusing the image, or accidentally erasing my SD card, I know the processing will be ok.

Knowing this removes a huge amount of stress when working in the field and gives me lots of time to think about things I did not have time to consider when I shot film.  These other things are seeing and composing creatively, making multiple versions of a given scene instead of only one version, and overall focusing on the artistic aspects of photography.

Today I am able to give composition more importance and more time than I ever could.  This is paradoxical because shooting digital is much faster than shooting film and the traditional paradigm is that creating a strong composition takes time. Yet, I feel that my compositions are better with digital even though I work faster than I did with film.

I explain this paradox by pointing to the extra time that is available to me now that I no longer need to pre-visualize the entire process in the field.  Today, composition, exposure and focus are just about all I need to think about in the field.  Since autofocus is now standard and calculating exposure become fairly automatic after the first 20,000 exposures (the blink of an eye in the world of digital capture), this leaves composition as the only thing I need to actively think about when working in the field.  This explains why I feel that I create better compositions while working faster: I work faster because I have fewer things to do.

 7 – Equal amount of time in the field


An important fact to consider is that I spend the same amount of time in the field today.  When I used film I would show up about one hour before sunrise and two hours before sunset.  The shorter amount of pre-sunrise time being due to the darkness.  However an extra hour was spent the previous evening finding a good location and an interesting composition.  I follow the same schedule today, spending on average two hours to shoot sunrise or sunset. The only difference is that I have less to do today during that time.

Another important timesaving factor, one that I did not mention yet, is the disappearance of the 4×5 view camera, which was notoriously time consuming to set up and operate. No sensors have been made available in 4×5 format and this means that I have stopped using view cameras in favor of medium format cameras equipped with digital backs.  These are much faster to operate.  Of course the same digital backs can be mounted onto a 4×5 camera, or onto a technical digital camera, but I have decided not to go this route because their operation is time consuming.  Using these cameras would mean losing the time-advantage that digital has given me.

The outcome of all these factors is that digital allows me to spend a lot more time seeing creatively, looking for interesting compositions and developing a personal style.  I can do so because the equipment is faster to operate and most of the creative decisions can be postponed until I return to my studio. Composition has become king of the hill in the field and processing can wait until I am back in the studio.

Antelope Canyon #3
Antelope Canyon #3

8 – Critical? Not so much

The above may read like a critique of the pre-visualization process.  I say process because even though I have a hard time understanding pre-visualization it is widely accepted as a valid process and many follow it.

However to see my writing simply as a critique would be inaccurate.  A more accurate understanding is to say that this process works for some and not for others. This is my point.  Because I write essentially about my personal approach to photography, guess what, this process did not work well for me.  In fact it did not work at all.  The fact that it took me years to figure this out is the reason why my writing takes on this critical tone.  I wish I had figured that out earlier on, or better never believed in pre-visualization at all.

What I reproach to pre-visualization is not the lack of opportunities for interpretation.  They exist, as demonstrated by Hernandez New Mexico, the famous print which Ansel Adams reworked all his life, introducing significant changes over a long period of time.

What I reproach to pre-visualization is that it requires you to pre-visualize.  As I said in the introduction I have a hard time doing that.  In fact to be honest I cannot do it and be myself at the same time.  If I do it I become an Ansel Adams clone, or at best a ‘west coast photography genre photographer’ clone.

The problem for me, and the core of my ‘complaint’ is that if I try to pre-visualize I feel inadequate because I don’t like to visualize how the print will look like at the time that I trip the shutter.  I also do not like thinking about the technical steps required to go from image capture to final print.

I want to think about photography in terms of art, not in terms of technique.  Digital made this possible.  Film made me feel inadequate.

Feeling inadequate is perhaps the worst thing that can happen to an artist.  I feel just as inadequate if, for example, I try to write about nature factually.  Reading Barry Lopez, to name but one writer, gives me this feeling to the nth degree.  Seeing the mountain of facts presented in Artic Dreams, to name but one of his books, the massive amount of numbers, the countless narratives, examples and anecdotes and knowing that these are the result of years of research on a specific subject is overwhelming to me because I know I can never do this. This is not what writing is for me.
The reason I bring this up is because I had the opportunity to ask Barry Lopez himself about the exact nature of his writing process.  His answers, which are summed up here, confirmed the belief that I love reading his because I cannot write like him.  My writing does not contain the immense amounts of facts, anecdotes and accounts that are featured in his books.  My writing is not based on countless notes taken on 3”x5” cards carefully collected and organized over months and years.  I cannot isolate myself in a remote motel with little or no contact with the outside world to complete the task of writing the final draft.  I write best in the comfort of my home, my writings are spur of the moment things, and I write notes on whatever piece of paper I have handy. Even though I collect notebooks I rarely use them because they never seem to be there when I need something to write on.  Oh and I forgot to mention that I can hardly re-read my handwriting, a bad habit I took in Paris when I intentionally started writing illegibly in the subway so that other passengers could not read what I wrote.

I cannot write like Barry Lopez just like I cannot photograph like Ansel Adams. I chose these two examples intentionally to show that the artistic challenge is present across different mediums. This challenge is that we are not other people and therefore we cannot create the way they create because the act of creation is deeply personal.  This is why I collect art and this is why I read widely.  I do so because I am not them and because I know I cannot do what they do, not even close.  So I purchase their works, originals or first editions if I can afford them and reproductions or recent editions if I the price is beyond my means.  Eventually it does not matter that much, even though originals have an aura and a beauty that reproductions never have, but that is the subject for a different essay.

Antelope Canyon #4
Antelope Canyon #4

9 – Conclusion


Being comfortable with the process one follows to create art is fundamental to being an artist.  To return to the subject of this essay, pre-visualization is simply not something I am comfortable with.  I don’t look down upon it; it simply does not work for me.  I know that it works for others and I am pleased about this. However, to me it constrains rather than frees my artistic impulses.  Because feeling free is fundamental to the creation of art, I prefer using a process that frees me.

I use the word process because I do follow a process and I do have a workflow.  Describing this workflow was the subject of the two previous essays in this series.  This workflow works for me because it allows me to be free in creating images that take their final shape during the process of creation, not before the process is started.  In fact I have several processes, or workflows, that I use to reach different goals.  Each of these processes shares something in common: they are adjustable and they do not define the final goal in and of themselves.  Instead, they let me define this final goal myself by allowing me to move forward or backwards, advance or retreat, depending on how I feel.  I can modify the process as I go should I realize that the resulting image is not to my liking.

In film days the photographer had to get everything right in camera in order to see the image they had in mind in the field come out on the negative and on the print.  A million things had to be done right in the camera in order to get an image that was close to what one wanted.

Today things are simpler: all we need to do is capture the best data possible. From there we have free reins regarding what we can do with it.  Whether we pre-visualize or not no longer matters.  For me, and for all those who like this approach, this is fantastic news.

10 – About Alain Briot

You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com.  You receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.

17-All-4-ebooks

 

I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing.  I am the author of Mastering Landscape PhotographyMastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold.  All 4 books are available in eBook format on my website.  Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.


 

Alain Briot
Arizona
March 2016

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available from Alain’s website as well as from most bookstores. You can find more information about Alain's work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website. You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe.

You May Also Enjoy...

4X5-Wild

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

 4X5" Wildlife Photography From Issue #3 Click on the image below to play a briefQuicktimevideo clip from Issue #3 of theVideo Journal. Remember, theVideo Journalis


Contact the publisher

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Your Name:required E-Mail Address:required Subject: Comments: ><