5 Essential Elements of Photographic Vision

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Photographing Lower Falls With A Phone – Yellowstone NP, WY – Fujifilm X100F

There are a lot of people that will tell you that you need photographic vision, but very few will explain what it means. You can search the web endlessly, but you won’t find a whole lot that lays it out simply and coherently. So let me pause from my regular Fujifilm X100F posts and briefly explain this important concept.

“In order to be a successful photographer, you must possess both vision and focus, neither of which have anything to do with your eyes.” –Kevin Russo

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” –Ansel Adams

Photographic vision is a vivid and imaginative conception. Within that definition are three (of five) essential elements of photographic vision: Clarity, Creativity and Conception. Capturing and Composing are the fourth and fifth elements. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Clarity

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Black Conduit – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

In order to have photographic vision, you must see in your mind’s eye what it is that you want to create before opening the shutter. You must pre-visualize the finished photograph. You must have vivid clarity. This might be a brief moment before the shutter opens or this might be something you’ve thought about for days, weeks or even years in advance.

Great photographs are very rarely happy accidents. Almost all worthwhile pictures took some thought and planning to create. The more clearly you can see in your mind what it is that you want to capture, the more likely you are to accomplish it.

2. Creativity

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Lines & Shadows – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Some people seem to be naturally creative. If that’s not you, don’t fret! I believe that creativity is something that can be learned and fostered. The more you allow yourself to think outside the box and look at things from different angles, the more creative you’ll become.

You have to relax. You have to keep an open mind. You have to use your imagination. Try to channel your inner child. This all might sound cliché, but the only barrier to creativity is yourself. Your rigid self. The self that says words like “no” and “can’t” and “shouldn’t” and other negative things. Think positive and throw all the so-called rules out the window.

3. Conception

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Man In The Straw Hat – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Your photograph begins as a concept. You have an idea. You begin to see that idea vividly in your mind’s eye. As the thought forms, you begin to consider other ways to look at it. Your creativeness takes the concept to new places. This is a vivid and imaginative conception.

Speak some message through your picture. Show your unique perspective. You have something important to say. Photographs are a form of nonverbal communication, and they all say something. The stronger the communication, the stronger the image. Make your concept as clear as practical in your pictures.

4. Capturing

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Ilford Harman Technology – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

The next step in photographic vision is to capture the image on film or a digital sensor. You’ve come up with a creative concept that you can clearly see in your mind. Now is the time to make it a photographic reality.

There is a lot to this, of coarse. You must consider gear and settings and lighting and composition and everything else. You have to know how to put what’s in your mind into something tangible. If you don’t know how, then perhaps you should learn. There are so many resources available on the internet and at the library–it’s all at your fingertips if you put in a little effort to learn. And oftentimes learning-by-doing is a good approach because, after all, practice makes perfect.

5. Composing

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Sitting Large – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Composing probably reminds you of composition, but that’s not what I mean. Composition can be found in the previous principals. Instead, think of a symphony composer, putting everything together, placing consideration on even the smallest details. In the case of photographic vision, composing means taking account all of the little details, including editing. Especially editing.

Editing means post-processing your files if they require manipulation to fulfill your vision, and knowing how much manipulation is enough. It also means editing out the lesser exposures, deleting the bad ones and not including the mediocre ones with a body of work. It’s knowing when the vision or execution of the vision wasn’t good enough. Composing means knowing when to take it from the top and try again.

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