Figures 1 to 3 illustrate this concept. Figures 1 and 2 show a desert scene during the day. At this time, the subject certainly doesn’t look very appealing. The light is very harsh, the colors are heavily desaturated, and the composition is very bad. One might be tempted to walk right past this scene and continue looking for more promising photo opportunities. However, that would be a mistake. If the scene is previsualized, a photographer could see the scene under a different set of circumstances and with a better composition. For instance, a photographer might previsualize the scene during the magic hour, with a rising moon, and from a much better viewpoint. In fact, that is exactly what was done. The result can be seen in Figure 3.
WHAT TO PREVISUALIZE
While all of the information covered in Part I of this series still applies when previsualization is used to previsualize a subjectat a different time and under a different set of conditions, there are some items to which one must pay particular attention:
The first item that must be previsualized is the composition. This is very important. Without a strong composition, no photographic subject will make a dynamic image. However, when previsualizing the composition, two problems often occur. The first problem is that it may be difficult to find a view point that will allow one to create the composition that one previsualized. In other words, it may be easy to see a beautiful image in one’s head, but it may be very difficult to find a position that will allow that image to be actually created. This was an issue with the image above. The tall rock formation looked like it might make a very good image, and I quickly saw an image, in my mind, of how I would like the final image to appear. However, it took some hiking and evaluation of various viewpoints before it was decided that one of the viewpoints would allow me to create the image that I had previsualized.
The second problem that can occur arises because there is a strong interdependence between the composition and the light. A great composition can only reach its full potential if the right light is achieved. A great composition becomes useless if the composition falls into shadow, the light comes from the wrong direction, or the light has the wrong color. Thus, when evaluating a composition, one must also evaluate the anticipated light. So, the issue really becomes one of what a particular composition will look like under a specific set of lighting conditions. This leads directly to the next item: light
Light has five components that must be previsualized:
Quality: Light can be either soft or hard. Soft light is a very diffused and flattering light. Soft light has low contrast. The bright areas and shadow areas tend to blend together easily. The transitions between sunlight and shadow tend to be gradual. Hard light is a very direct, harsh, and often unflattering light. Hard light has a very high contrast, and the transitions between light and shadow are usually rather abrupt.
Color: Visible light is composed of a mixture of colors. Neutral light is composed of an equal amount of each of these colors. However, light is not always neutral. Often, the color balance of the light has been altered. Most frequently, this occurs because one or more of the colors have been, at least partially, filtered out of the light. When this happens, the color of the light changes. Because of this, the light is constantly changing color all day long, and this affects the color balance of images that are taken.
Saturation: The saturation of light changes throughout the day. Light usually has the highest saturation at the ends of the day and the least saturation during the middle of the day.
Direction: Anticipating and previsualizing the direction of the light is critical. Only when the direction of the light with respect to the subject is understood is it possible to predict how the light will interact with the subject.
Unfortunately, it is not always obvious where the sun will be at any particular time. After hiking for hours on serpentine trails through mountainous terrain, a photographer can lose any sense of direction. Since most good landscape photography is taken around sunrise or sunset, three pieces of information are required to resolve this dilemma:
- The time the sun will rise or set
- The point on the compass (in degrees) where the sun will sit at the time of sunrise or sunset
- The direction of north
The first two pieces of information can be determined with a good GPS. The GPS will display the time the sun will rise or set and the position on the compass where the sun will reside at that time. Knowing the position on the compass where the sun will reside at photo time, a compass can be used to point to where the sun will be in relation to the subject at that time.
Blockage: The quality, color, and saturation of the light are partly determined by how high in the sky the sun is positioned. The higher in the sky that the sun is positioned, the harder, cooler, and less saturated the light. This becomes an issue because, often, objects block the sun when it is lower in the sky. For instance, mountains may block the sun as it drops toward the horizon. Thus, shadows cover the adjacent terrain. If this is the case, the photo session will have to occur before the sun drops below the mountains (assuming that the photographer doesn’t want everything in shadow). This means that the scene can only be photographed while the sun is still fairly high in the sky. As already mentioned, this will result in a light that tends to be harder, cooler, and less saturated than if the sun was lower in the sky. Previsualizing the scene with these conditions will allow a photographer to determine if these lighting conditions will result in the image that is desired. If not, the photographer will know that is time to move on to better opportunities.
The topic of shadows is related to the direction of the light as covered above. Until the direction of the light is known, it is impossible to know how the shadows will fall and how the shadows will define the subject.
Some photographers may tend to think of shadows as simply a lack of light. It would be easy to draw the conclusion that one need only focus on the light and let the shadows fall where they may. This would be a major mistake — for light is nothing without shadows. Shadows are not simply dark masses that border the light. Rather, shadows are an entity as alive as the light. It is the shadows that shape the light, that draw attention to the light, and that integrate with the light to produce striking photographic opportunities. If we are to reach our full potential as photographers, we must think as much in terms of mastering the shadows as we do of mastering the light.
Thus, it is critical to previsualize the shadows. The shadows will have a very large impact on the mood of the image. Figure 3, above, is a perfect example. The large rock formation has two types of rock. The lower rock has horizontal lines running across it. The upper rock forms spires that have vertical lines. Long before the image was shot, it was realized that the vertical spires could add drama to the image due to their rugged form and jagged shape. However, the lower rock, with the horizontal lines, had more of a static feel. Therefore, when the image was previsualized, the shadows were seen as covering the lower rock in order to hide the detail of the horizontal lines and to create a tonal contrast with the spires. As can be seen in Figure 3, this is exactly how the image was captured. In short, determining how the shadows would fall was one of the most important parts of previsualizing the image in Figure 3.
Figure 4 is another example. Determining how the shadow would fall across the mountain (seen as a reflection in the beaver pond) was a very important part of previsualizing this image. At the time the area was being scouted, the pond was still in the direct light of the sun. This light was far too harsh to produce the desired image. In previsualizing the image, it was decided that the pond would be in the shadow of the northern mountains. This would help create a sense of calm that would be lacking if the pond was in direct light. On the other hand, it was determined that the reflected mountains would be partly in shadow and partly in the late afternoon sun to increase the dramatic effect by throwing the jagged edge of the shadow across the face of the mountain. In addition, the late afternoon light would hit the surface of the mountains at a low angle, thus, bringing out the texture and ruggedness of the mountains.
In addition, the issue of blockage, as covered above, was an issue when previsualizing this image. Ideally, it would have been great to have some alpenglow on the reflected mountains, but this was not possible due to blockage. By the time that the sun got low enough in the sky to produce alpenglow, the reflected mountains would be completely in the shadow of the northern mountains.
Weather is a critical part of previsualization. Without the proper weather, it is often impossible to capture the appropriate mood. Figure 5 is an example. I had seen photos of this waterfall in different weather and lighting conditions. Based on these photos, I was able to previsualize this image a day or two before the hike to the location began. It was determined that this rainforest waterfall would have the desired mood only if it was photographed while the rainforest was wet. Therefore, I started out on an early morning hike in the middle of a rainstorm. After a couple of hours in the rain, a break in the rain occurred, and I was able to set up and capture the shot.
The important point here is that previsualization of the affect that the weather would have in creating a misty, lush environment was critical to the image. Thus, the rain was an essential part of creating this image.
Wind is another important factor that must be previsualized. The wind’s affect on water and vegetation can have a major impact on one’s ability to capture an image. For instance, wildflower shots become very difficult to capture in strong winds. Also, shots of lakes become difficult in the wind if a calm lake surface is desired.
Consequently, previsualizing and planning for wind conditions is critical for many images. For instance, if a previsualization requires calm wind, checking the weather report for wind conditions and shooting in the early morning when the wind is generally calmer would be a good idea.