Sunday, April 15, 2012

Focusing Your Imagination

Mark Twain once said, "You cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." There's more than one way Twain's observation might be interpreted and applied. Since this is a photography blog, I'll interpret and apply it to photography and photographers.

As photographers, our vision isn't limited to our eyes. Sure, our eyes are wildly important to our photography. But our mind's eye is also, at a minimum, equally important. Our mind's eye, of course, is the eye we use to see things with our imaginations.

When our imaginations's eye is out of focus, our creative visions are hazy and difficult to see, making it even more difficult to capture with a camera. If you can't adequately see what your mind's eye conjures -- see it with a fair amount of clarity, that is -- you'll be left with little more than what your physical eyes are seeing, coupled with a vague idea of what you'd like the photographic results to look like.

There's nothing inherently wrong with only using our physical eyes to see, even when there's a camera's viewfinder pressed to one of them. Often enough, our two eyes are all that's required to get the shots we're intent on capturing. You don't even need two eyes. For many years, I got by on one eye. How so? I was 100% blind in my right eye as a result of a major cataract covering my entire pupil. Surgery and an artificial lens implant fixed that a few years ago but, for over a decade, I was a working, one-eyed, photographer. What made if more difficult was that it was my right eye. Most cameras, whether they're still or motion picture cameras, are ergonomically designed for a user's right eye pressed to the viewfinder. I only had my left eye to use.

As photographers, only seeing with one's physical eyes (or eye) can be quite limiting. From a photographer's point of view, reality often sucks. That's why we work so hard to use our cameras, coupled with post-production techniques, to alter reality, embellish it, recreate it, make it more interesting or beautiful or, sometimes, for whatever reasons, make things uglier than they might be.

Still, without the help of our mind's eye, all that photographic embellishing, recreating, and making things more interesting, beautiful, or even uglier can suck worse than reality.

So, how do we keep our imaginations in focus? (Please note: I'm not talking about increasing our abilities to imagine, I'm referring to how we might keep whatever it is we're imagining in focus, give it clarity, and at some point, recreate it with a camera.) Well, since we don't always have control of when our mind's decide to imagine things we might want to photograph -- that is, it doesn't always conjure those imagined images when we have a camera pressed to our physical eyes and a model in front of us -- it might be a good idea to notate the imagined image on a piece of paper, either in words or with a drawing, or in a vocal description voiced and recorded with some sort of audio recording device. Even if you don't jot your vision down or voice-record it, it's best to be thorough when you're describing it, even if you're merely describing it to yourself.

The best way to describe your vision is to include as many of its details as you can imagine, I mean see... You know what I mean. Good photography is in the details even when an imagined photograph is still in its imaginary state. When you notate something from your imagination, i.e., some idea you think you might want to shoot, the more accurate, descriptive, and detail-oriented your imaginary photo is, the more your creative vision comes into focus. Obviously, the more your creative vision is in focus, the better you'll be able to transfer it to a photograph.

Here's an example of out-of-focus imagination: I want to shoot a beautiful model in a run-down, falling-apart, abandoned building.

That's cool. We see plenty of those kinds of pictures but they can still be cool even if it's been done a million times or so.

Here's the same idea, but in somewhat better focus: I want to shoot a beautiful model, dressed in an elegant, brightly-colored gown, in a run-down, falling-apart, abandoned building. The model and her wardrobe are juxtaposed against the filthy, near-colorless environment of the building's interior. I want to light her in a way that further separates her from the shabby environment. I want her to project a sense of immunity to her surroundings via pose and expression. She looks as if she holds herself above the reality of the environment she finds herself in. You can take this second description and add more details to it, things like props or wardrobe accessories, more accurate descriptions of the lighting or the poses and expressions you'd like to see, perhaps details that seem to say why the model is in the environment she's in or something else she's trying to communicate, and more.

Once again, we've seen photos that depict what I just described. But in my second description, I've focused in on the elements that are important components of the vision I imagined with my mind's eye. Even if, when shooting, I deviate from my originally imagined image -- which I likely would do -- many key elements of it still remain. (The wardrobe, the environment itself, etc.) Since those things are still in play, I can better focus on imagining other ways to alter reality, embellish it, recreate it, make it more interesting or beautiful or even uglier (if that's my intent) than it might be. The original vision remains mostly intact but some of the details have changed. And it's those details which also change the "feelings" and the "stories" contained in the finished photos.

None of this is to say we should ignore spontaneous and creative visions that suddenly appear in our mind's eye while we're shooting. Spontaneity is often responsible for some kick-ass photos. Instead, I'm simply offering one way (there are more) to sharpen our preconceived creative visions.

The pretty girl at the top is Roxy. I shot her against a green seamless and I also green-gelled the accent light coming from camera left and behind her. At the time, I had a repeat client who specifically wanted all their artwork to have a green background. They didn't need it because there were going to key in and composite some other background for the images. They wanted the green That's why I was also able to use the green gels in my lighting schemes and allow the green to bleed onto the model's skin and elsewhere.

By the way, if you haven't already done so, check out Ed Verosky's new ebook, DSLR: The Basics. You can do that by CLICKING HERE.

1 comment:

Nadja said...

Super fantastic photo!
I love these photos of yours that are somewhat 'different'.
Before I do a shoot with a women, I work with ordinary people, I (day) dream about the photos for days, and know exactly how they should look.
I tell that to the women a bit, but I let them bring in ideas for the posing and so on, too, if possible in a way that still fits my ideas.