Like vacations, photographic excursions- be they a walk around your yard or a trip to another country- take some mental preparation. John Batdorff wrote, “Prior to any photographic journey I try to visualize what sort of images I’m hoping to achieve. This mental shot list helps me create a plan of attack when an opportunity presents itself. Visualization (not the spiritual kind!) is an excellent mental exercise and tool for composing an image.” I found this to be true the other day. I was in search of a picture that could illustrate the words “ice sculpture”. Since I knew I wouldn’t be attending any weddings with icy swans surrounded by shrimp and cocktail sauce in the near future and I also knew the Winterfest celebration in Stroudsburg had come and gone, I was looking for a different way to capture sculpted ice. I knew a particular spot up on Route 209 heading towards Milford where some amazing ice formations have appeared in past winters so I made a plan to visit that spot after I ran a few errands. In my mind I started composing a shot or two, but on my way there, on a whim, I stopped at another spot with smaller, less impressive formations, and took a few shots. It’s a good thing I did! The spot I’d originally planned to shoot was virtually ice-less. As I headed back home I was glad I’d listened to that little voice that said, “Stop and take a few shots, just in case.” A key factor in the process of taking a photo is actually being aware of what you’re seeing, even if it isn’t initially what you set out to see.
Freeman Patterson put it this way, “The photographer who observes his environment carefully, who lets his eyes linger on physical details, is feeding his imagination.” When we take our cameras in hand with the purpose of finding a picture, planning ahead can be very helpful. But when we get to our destination it is also important to actually view our surroundings. Sometimes the picture we imagined taking is “not there” but another picture will be. Patterson continues, “Photographers who want to see the world in new ways should be sensitive to chance. They should encourage and cultivate it (their imagination) because it is only through chance that many new opportunities for visual development will occur.” He defines this ability to imagine new shots when our initial idea falls through as “flexible thinking”. How many of us have planned a vacation and expected to capture beautiful sunny day photographs while there only to arrive and find the weather is not about to cooperate with us? Flexible thinking allows the photographer to reshape his expectations. Of course everyone wants a landscape with a blue sky and sun kissed trees. It’s a very traditional approach to that form of photography. But what if it’s a cloudy day with a slight possibility of rain? Flexible thinking asks, “This view is not usually photographed on a cloudy day. What if I compose this shot in black and white instead?” And voila- a dramatic view of stormy clouds over the mountains is born.
So to paraphrase Hamlet, “To plan or not to plan? That is the question!” The answer probably lies somewhere in between yes, and no. Yes, it’s great to have a plan, an idea, a goal to accomplish when you know you will be taking pictures. It doesn’t hurt visualize or plan pictures ahead of time. But no if you are locked into that plan so deeply that you miss whatever opportunity presents itself when the goal cannot be achieved. If I hadn’t stopped at the first ice formations when I saw them, I would not have gotten an ice picture at all. Did it match the picture I had in mind? No. Did it help me accomplish my goal? Yes. While it is not as disappointing as being on vacation with lousy weather, it is an applicable illustration. And it might just be a great illustration for life too!
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