Pre-visualisation? What is that? This tends to be the response that I get when talking about this skill. You probably don’t even realise it, but you already pre-visualise every day. Pre-visualisation is the ability to compose the photo in your mind before even clicking the shutter button. How often have you looked at a scene and thought if only there was someone standing there?

This is your brain working out an ideal scene with the elements that you feel will make a good composition and is essentially what pre-visualization is. This could be influenced by anything you have seen from photographs or movies to things you read or things that you sense like the smell of a place or just a feeling you get. All of these elements are aspects that you can try to incorporate into a photograph for a pleasing end result.

Do your research

It’s pretty rare in this day and age to go anywhere that hasn’t already been photographed or written about millions of times. So your first task should always be to research what already exists. The last thing that picture editors want to see is another photograph of the Eiffel Tower taken at eye-view.

By researching the destination or the shoot, it will allow you to get a sense of what already exists and also how you may potentially be able to create something different. If you do your research well, you will begin to form your own ideas about potential photo opportunities and ways to photograph that subject that might be unique. This could be anything from composition to lighting or even just how it is cropped. This is an important part of being able to pre-visualise your shot in your mind.

Scamp ideas

A scamp is a term that is used in advertising. It is basically a drawing that an Art Director would present to clients or photographers to show what an idea for an advert would look like. Scamps are a great way to get yourself thinking about a scene and potential photo ideas. You don’t need to be a great artist and draw an amazing picture, often just a rough sketch will get your brain thinking about the composition and lighting.

Think about the message

It’s no good photographing a scene that you want to depict tranquillity and calmness during the hustle and bustle of rush hour. That’s why thinking about the message or story that you want to portray is so important and can help you pre-visualise your final image. So when you are researching a potential photograph or even when you are at your location, always keep in mind the message that the photo needs to deliver. More often than not this will automatically begin to get you thinking and pre-visualising the photo.

Look and wait

Often the difference between a good photo and a great photo is just a few simple elements added or removed from the scene. This could be points or interest, lighting or simply a different time of the day. When you arrive at a scene the first thing you should do is really try and look and critique it in your mind. How can the scene be improved? Once you have begun to really observe and think about what is in front of you will begin to see an image in your mind. It is then a matter of waiting or returning when the elements are right to capture that photograph.

The Final Product

One of the techniques I use to pre-visualise a scene is to imagine it in situ. Start off by thinking about the message that you want to portray and then try to imagine it in a magazine or newspaper. This should help you be more critical of the photo but also think about the technical elements such as orientation and crop. For example, you don’t want to place a point of interest in the middle of your photo as it will fall in the centre of a double-page spread (known as the gutter).

And always remember that you can take a few more risks as well with your photos, after all, that is one of the great benefits of digital photography.

Pre-visualisation is as much about being spontaneous as it is planning in advance. Every single time you lift your camera you are already pre-visualising a photo – sometimes you may not even realize that you are doing it. Over time and with practice this will become more and more second nature to you and will take less effort in applying it to your photos.

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This article on pre-visualisation and images are subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting photos or articles elsewhere is strictly forbidden. Please contact us if you would like to use this feature on your website.

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