Always wondered about how top photographers are making their images the best ones out there? And what decisions they make before or while taking the photograph? In this tutorial, we hope take a look inside the creative process of professional photographers.
This tutorial will take you from the moment your eye and mind seems attracted to a particular scene until the moment your finger pushes the button.We'll discuss the implicit decision-making process in the head of most professional and semi-professional photographer’s. And we will attempt to bring this process to the surface.
VIMED-C: The Photographer's Mental Process
Every photographer knows this moment: a scene is unfolding and sudden you feel the urge to capture it. Have you ever considered that moment? Why do you feel that attraction to the scene and the photographic urge? And what is it that you are seeing (and feeling)? And isn’t that feeling different for every individual photographer? Exactly, you are right, it is!
Because of who you are, what your background is, and how you are looking at the scene which is unfolding, the urge of making the photograph or looking away, literally, is your own decision and your decision only.
The beginning or wide angle view is your "Vision" you have (of life) in general. Zooming-in to, we'll look at the "Intent" you have with the photograph you are about to make. Next, you'll find the "Message" of your photograph. You'll express your message with "Elements." You'll then make the "Decision" about which elements to include or exclude, and how to position them into the photograph. This leads to a unique and individual "Composition" of your final image. Now you can see the VIMED-C acronym.
In this tutorial, I am trying to make you aware of these six stages and make you walk through all of them in a split second (after some practicing). Of course, at first this feels a little bit awkward for most photographers. For most of us, photographing is rather sub-conscience, but we want to move that process into a conscience, logical state.
The vision in the following image is “All kids are nice when having fun." Before photographing a specific subject, it is very convenient to have some knowledge about it. For example, it would help in this instance to know about these street kids in Bangkok. Now we all have certain unspecific knowledge and prejudices about our world and the things that are in it. That’s how we “look" at the things you come upon on the road (non-focused) or when working on assignment (focused).
Joy expressed by Thai street kids at one of the many waterways in Bangkok, Thailand
For photographers it is absolutely crucial to have some basic knowledge about the things or humans you are about to photograph, to understand them and put the situation in the right perspective. And your mission is to transpose this knowledge to the image. Because your background and knowledge about the scene is determining your intentions.
On the subconscious level, you are feeling the drivers that urge you to make this particular photograph in a certain style or from a certain point of view. And those drivers can be found in your own emotions at that moment: affection, boredom, curiosity, desire, excitement, grief, happiness, hostility, joy, loneliness, pride, sadness, or terror (just to name a few).
After you identified your guiding emotions to your subject, you have to identify what your intentions are with the photograph you are about to make. Is it just a snapshot (right time, right place, right light). Or are you really pursuing an idea (for which you need very specific images).
Making your intentions very clear and explicit to yourself helps in defining what is of interest to you or for the prospective viewer of your image. It also addresses what emotions you want to stir in the viewer.
Ask yourself what it is in the scene that is stirring your emotions and should be stirring the emotions of others. In the previous photo, our intention may be showing that “in every culture kids always find ways to generate fun with water." This “intent" step is improving the emotional quality of your photographs effectively while simultaneously pushing away unfocused spray-and-pray photos. For example, take a landscape image. Are you photographing a landscape for Greenpeace or for a commercial real estate agent?
Firmly rooted beech at the Speulder Bos forest area, The Netherlands
The vision of this image might be “unspoiled, wild forest areas with old trees are beautiful." However, the intention can be very different: for Greenpeace “preserve this place", for the real estate agent “build a quiet and tucked-away home in this forest." With your vision and intentions identified, you are ready to formulate the message of your photograph.
Defining a clear and unambiguous message in your photograph is the hard part. This is about what you want to say with your photograph based on your vision and your intentions. For instance, using the Greenpeace/commercial real estate agent example here again, messages can be “join us in protecting this area" (Greenpeace) or “this piece of land has a lot of possibilities for real estate development" (real estate agent).
Late sunlight caressing a beautiful stretch of land in Tuscany, Italy
In the Greenpeace example, you only need a very beautiful captured image with beautiful light to transpose the message of beauty. In the real estate example, you want to show the possibilities, perhaps with several photographs from different angles with different building types drawn-in. So, depending on the message, various elements come into play. What elements do you need to include in the image to convey your message?
With your message crystal clear, the next step is to select the elements you need in your image to tell the story and get the message across. Very often, you don't need all the elements of a scene to tell the story. So usually, it's a bit like sculpting out of stone. You just exclude anything that isn't part of your message.
Commercial bamboo plantation, Beesd, The Netherlands
There should be a link between these elements, a logical reason and the elements should be self-explanatory. There should be no question as to why they are in the photograph. Each element is enhancing the message, all elements together are getting the major message across.
A rule of thumb is to exclude as many elements as possible. For further reading, look for David Duchemin's thoughts about elements in images and Ken Rockwell's thoughts about composition.
Now it’s time to do some decision making! You have your vision, your intention is clear, you defined the message of the image, and the important elements are identified. Now it is “only" which elements to include in the image and how to arrange them.
As always, this decision is tough. So, we are shooting away the megapixels in our drive “not to forget anything and cover all angles." We can gradually forget our intentions, the message, and… need I go on?
For example, let's look at this photo of a hill road in Tuscany, Italy. I did want to create “the long and winding road." Therefore, I had to use a large telephoto lens, crop the upper side of the image which contained telegraph poles leading towards a village, crop away the lower side which contained disturbing waste bins, and finally, I increased the saturation a bit, and added some contrast and sharpening.
The Long And Winding Road, Tuscany, Italy
The trick is to stick to your vision and intentions. Of course, you should change your point of view by moving around the subject in time and space, going closer, going further away, changing lenses, etc. But this only helps, keeping your vision and intentions constant while shooting is the most important thing.
Composition is simply arranging your important elements in a frame. Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the subject. For more information see this great Phototuts+ article: Master the Art of Photographic Composition.
Building The Perfect Storm, Biarritz, France
In this image of a summer storm approaching a lighthouse on the French Atlantic coast, the horizon is kept at the bottom of the lower third of the image putting emphasis on the developing thunder cloud (20 minutes later Biarritz was flooded with a torrential rain flooding the streets and filling the sewers). This is against all “rules" of composition (Rule of Thirds, etc.) and is depending heavily on the interpretation by the photographer (using VIMED-C) and the message he/she is conveying.
Some Last Words on VIMED-C
This VIMED-C “methodology" is about the image creating process, not the image making process. And as with all methodologies it can only be successful when practiced and used in a sensible and creative way.
I am not trying to convince photographers to practice photography as a mechanical process. Quite the contrary, I am trying to convince them that photography is a creative process and that the image qualities can be enhanced by using a deliberate and “rational" approach to making images.
By acting along the VIMED-C acronym, much more time and fun is left for the creative insights, discoveries, and the human process. These are the things that make photography so much fun. As photographers, we have to make it worthwhile to haul heavy equipment and spend time and effort in making images that really make a difference. When practiced, any photographer can use VIMED-C in a split second, thus making it second nature, just like breathing.