Vision is Beginning

Intent is what brings depth and significance to a photograph. In many ways you can say it’s the lifeline of the photograph – or any work of fine art for that matter. A photograph without intention behind it won’t convey any importance to the viewers either. It might be as beautiful as anything in the world, but we still won’t stay with it for more than a glimpse of time and we won’t remember it if it doesn’t reveal the photographer behind it. A writer without anything to say in his novel, a filmmaker without a story in her movie or a musician without passionate songs, aren’t going to spellbind their audience and will all soon be forgotten. In the end nobody is going to care about their work. So it is with photography and photographers. A photographer who has no intention with his or her photography will most likely bore the viewers – no matter how technical brilliant the work is or how beautiful the composition is. Intention is what brings uniqueness and substance to a photograph.

«Without intent we’re left with accidental photography, and while accidental photography may once in a while generate interesting photographs, it will not generally count as an act of expression any more than hoping that saying random words will result in a sentence that says something meaningful.» Those are the words of David duChemin taken from his eBook The Vision Driven Photographer.

For David duChemin intent is a way to focus on the why instead of the what in the photographic process. It’s all about being clear about why you shoot what you shoot. By having a clear intent you will better be able to express your vision. For David duChemin the photographic vision is just another word for the intent behind the photograph. Vision is everything – without it the final result is dead. duChemin is one of the photographers today who has been most unambiguous about the need for intent in the photographic process – for the photographer to have a vision. He is probably also the one who has best been able to put words to the somewhat abstract idea of vision and the role it plays in photography. It’s not without reason he calls himself a vision driven photographer.

The photographer’s vision is where the photographic process begins – or where it should begin. Unfortunately most photographers – and I willingly admit that I am prone to the same thoughtlessness, too – don’t have a clear thought about their vision, they just never get beyond the technical part of photography or beyond seeing light or composition. «Before our photographs can say what we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it. That’s vision.» That’s another quote by duChemin.

In order to better understand the vague and abstract idea of vision, David duChemin splits it in two types. He talks about personal vision and photographic vision. The former is something everybody has although we are not always consciously aware of it. It’s our understanding of the world around us and ourselves. It’s what makes you vote for a certain party, it’s what makes to choose to do what you do, it’s what makes you pay attention to what you see, it’s what makes you photograph something and not something else. The personal vision is based on experience and learning, and it changes with time as it grows more depth with ageing. Photographic vision on the other hand is the link between our personal vision and the final photograph. It’s what makes you frame an image in a certain way, it’s what makes you choose a certain lens over another, it’s what makes you photograph from one angle or another. While personal vision is the how you see life, photographic vision is how you see life when the camera is put to the eye.

For some time now I have been pondering over duChemin’s words to make it fit into a more complete understanding of the photographic process. Vision is where it all begins, but then what? How can we bring vision into the rest of the process? The equation I have come up with looks something like this:

Personal vision → Perception → Reflection → Photographic Vision → Manifestation

Your personal vision is where it all starts. It’s what makes you choose to photograph something over something else. It’s the intent, which could be anything from wanting to show injustice in the world to declaring your love for something or someone. As a photographer you then move out into the world with your intent, and as you know, suddenly you see something that catches your attention. That’s the moment of perception. On the street you suddenly see a couple or an action that arouses your photographic interest. Even in the studio the same thing happens, but instead of moving around in the world until something catches your interest, you move the world around you and rearrange it until it feels right. While in that moment of perception, take a bit of time to reflect over the reason why you were stopped by whatever made you stop. Even if it was only light that seemed to arouse you interest, something made you choose this subject matter of that. This is paying conscious attention to your personal vision. Then continue to discern how you best can express this intention by photographic means available to you. This is the part where your photographic vision comes into play. Only then is it time to pull the trigger and continue the photographic process all the way to the final print, the manifestation of your vision.

This all seems like an elaborate process but as a matter of fact the more you get into the habit of paying attention to your vision, the faster the whole process will progress. From something catches you attention, till the camera has captured the subject, in reality it might only take a fraction of a second. The important part is being aware of your intent – or having a conscious vision. Unfortunately most photographers don’t. They see something without being aware of why the subject caught their attention and then start shooting right away. Of course their personal vision still made them react, but they just don’t know why or are not aware of it. The photographic process may look like this:

(Personal vision) → Perception → Manifestation

Do you have a clear intent when you are shooting? Are you a vision driven photographer? Or do you only arbitrarily take snap shots of whatever catches you interest?


93 thoughts on “Vision is Beginning

  1. Excellent thoughtful message! My favourite part is:

    “we still won’t stay with it for more than a glimpse of time and we won’t remember it if it doesn’t reveal the photographer behind it.”

    That is always mu INTENT! 😉

  2. I am second one, it is not easy for me to be a vision driven photographer… But this is professional, at least seems to me like that dear Otto. But on the other hand I am not a photographer but I (love to) live with my camera day by day… Thank you dear Otto, as always it was great. Love, nia

  3. Great food for though. The Vision, it’s something I try to capture in my photographs along with a story to tell from the images. Although my vision may not be seen the same from another and sometimes it’s more abstract. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

    1. I don’t think the vision has to be expressed the same way. On the contrary it’s going to create a more interesting body of work if you are able to make you vision seen differently from one picture to another – as you write.

  4. Brilliant post Otto, as always, another facet of the soft underbelly of the creative process. I think I mindlessly plunder along until something catches my eye and then I try to fix it in Photoshop. I never thought, at least consciously about intent with photography. I think about it with painting. Then sometimes, often, my intent changes before I am finished with a piece! This has given me a lot the think about here, thanks for a great post and a beautiful photo to open it up.

  5. I’ve read a couple of David duChemin’s books, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone.

    I think your photographic vision is a bit like your photographic style in that it is something that you develop over time, years in fact. It’s a combination of a lot of things, including your worldview, your interests, your experiences, your moods and your own aesthetic. Likewise, your photographic vision informs what you photograph as well.

    1. I think you are right. Both style and vision gradually develop over time, but I think you have a more conscious choice when it comes how to use your vision in photography, simply by thinking what is your intent in any given picture.

  6. Very well said, Otto.

    I am currently trying to do my 365project in order to improve myself and achieving these steps:

    Personal vision → Perception → Reflection → Photographic Vision → Manifestation

    That’s why I am very grateful with your idea of picture critique because it really is helpful for me.
    I am still learning anyway.
    Thanks for this wonderful article. 🙂

  7. I’ll admit to shooting anything that catches my eye. If I am out in the woods, I find that the shots taken at the end of the journey are better than in the first leg. I suppose photographic vision creeps into my personal vision. Food for thought!

  8. As most trying hard photographer, i am more of the ‘nice view, nice object’ and then ‘click’.. but i think my skill would develop in time, learning a few tricks as well as learning to define my intent so i could take more beautiful photographs.. thank you for this wonderful post otto,

    1. We can all learn more with time, and being conscious about our choices when we are photograph is certainly one of the factors that helps us develop.

  9. I just enjoy reading your posts and hope one day your lessons will sink in. To answer your question, I would have to say, being new to photography, that I am a very random shooter.

    So, are you saying by having a clear vision on why one would photograph, for example, a spider coming down from the ceiling, that the clear intention would more likely produce a photo that has the photographer’s unique qualities rather than a random and boring shot with just a spider crawling down on a long dangling web? I think that is what you mean…

    Thanks again…it is starting to make sense…I think… 🙂

    1. Yes, it is at least in a way. By being aware of your motives, you are able to emphasize those as intentions in your photograph. You still have to translate that into a coherent and interesting photograph, but that comes with time and practice.

  10. Another great thought provoking post Otto! Gosh it’s true I do arbitrarily take snap shots of whatever catches my interest. Next time I use my camera I must take an extra minute to first think why I want to take the photo, what I want to capture….? Sounds as if I should read David duChemin’s book

    1. Thinking is never bad is it, Rosanne, whether photographing or not? If you want to read more about photography I certainly can recommend duChemin.

  11. I love your formula … Personal vision → Perception → Reflection → Photographic Vision → Manifestation … It makes sense. You have pretty much hit the nail on the head. Recently I have noticed a few of the blogs I follow that I am not really looking at them. They are full of beautiful photos but they don’t make me stop and actually look at them. I scroll through and if one catches my eye I stop and read about it. Almost always I would say that what is written indicates that they have used your formula. Perhaps without realizing they had done so.

    1. Interesting the way you relate the formula to what catches your eyes. I don’t think it’s the only way to approach photographing, but it’s one way to bring out the best in them. Thanks for an interesting comment, Michelle.

  12. Personal vision? Yes, I have it, at least I think so. Photographic vision? Hmm, sometimes. Intent? Again, sometimes it’s clear, sometimes is a little deep inside myself. But when editing I see the differences between the photos where I had an intent and where not. Interesting post, I have to re-read it a couple of times and keep it in mind…

  13. Very helpful article. I think I have a vision and intent when I photograph something but weather it comes across to others I’m not sure. Your article have given me much room for thought. I hope over time my photos will reflect my vision and intent and everything else you have stated. THANK YOU.


  14. “you move the world around you and rearrange it until it feels right” … you’ve put words to something I do but never really think much further about. I “rearrange” the outside world through things like use of light, an unexpected element, etc. … why? I never really thought about it but as you say and now I realize: because the scene “feels right” that way. Feels right to me, and now I see that’s a clue to my vision. An ah-ha moment 🙂 Thank-you Otto for another thoughtful post!

  15. “Intention is what brings uniqueness and substance to a photograph.” I learned so much today what I may have been searching for a year. When I started blogging, I got no idea what I wanted to share or what images I wanted to post. Then I realized what I am passionate about my family and basically my images revolves around them and the journey we make together. Pureness of intention in both words and pictures makes all the difference. Have a great week.

    1. I have notice your clear intent and vision related to both you blog and the pictures you showcase. And it’s made it a very strong and good blog – as many followers have duly noted.

  16. Reading this was certainly inspiring!
    You tackle questions I often ponder myself – because I know abstract art plays a major role for me, and I also know what places, or things, appeal to me. I try to focus on those subjects (which permanently evolve): leaves and trees, shores, heavy machinery, certain aspects of the city.
    I often wonder if there is one unifying photographic vision behind all of this. At the same time, I feel like I might have found ‘my language’ now which can be applied to a variety of subjects. And it feels rewarding to try to do exactly that.
    I can only hope that my pictures convey my intention. Anyway, it is great to see how differently people react to pictures and what they see in them – after all, one thing I would like my pictures to be is ‘open’.

    1. It does sound you have found you way to express you vision. And you seem pretty clear about your photography, which also comes through in your pictures. Thank you for your comment, Tobias.

  17. Otto, you have made a very important point here…intention in photography makes all the difference; if there is no point of view, there isn’t much more than a pretty picture…this is a great reminder….I would like to submit a photograph….I seemed to have missed the opportunity somehow…will now go try to figure it out….Meryl

  18. I have a “feeling” much more than a “vision”–which is probably why it’s hard to communicate any kind of intent. Especially in a landscape (my favorite subject) which contains no people and/or few artificial objects. On the other hand, one of my favorite photographers, Philip Vergeylen, seems to have no difficulty whatsoever in this regard ( I’m instantly drawn to the intrinsic intent of his photos without being able to put any kinds of words down to describe them!

    1. Well, if you ask me, feeling is just as much an intent than any rationalized thought which can be related to words. I think what is important is being conscious about the process whether it can be exactly expressed or not.

  19. Lots of food for thought here… I shoot what interests me and often I have an idea of what about it I wish to capture… Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. 😉

  20. I like the idea of pausing from whatever initially grabbed my attention and thinking about my intention-how I want to express that. Yes , I like David Duchemin’s work and articles. It is always good to get those reminders.

  21. Thank you Otto for your commentary about the self-directed vision. Often in writing it is called your “voice:” the quality that differentiates one person’s artistic expression from another’s (whether in visual, literary or performing arts). The growth and metamorphosis is usually a long journey of discovery and experimentation, which results in the “knowing.” I love the process of movement toward the tipping point, and am encouraged that I will know when my voice arrives. I am thankful that this journey has brought your insight, knowledge and wisdom into my life.

  22. There’s serious food for thought here. My intent when taking photos is usually simply to capture something for myself – a moment, a feeling, an object, light. I guess that puts me into the second category. But if I’m shooting only for myself, does it really matter? As I said, much to think about.

  23. That’s a challenging and thought-provoking post, Otto. I have to plead guilty to the charge of being a photographer without ‘intent’ a lot of the time. It’s easy to be seduced by the beauty of a place or a scene without thinking how to ‘interpret’ what you see in a meaningful way.

  24. I’m absolutely delighted to learn more about intent as Kristian Bogner discussed this in the Ultimate Rockstar Photographer Weekend and I was inspired to truly have in my mind his motto of “excellence in, and excellence out”. Thank you for visiting my aspiring blog where I’m sure I will learn lots from creative minds like you!

    Pink Bubble

  25. P.S. I’m definitely a bit of both with more solid grounding now as to how I want to take a step back (as Kristian Bogner describes) and really think about what I want to accomplish before I dive into my shots. Thank you for this reminder, how inspiring!

  26. I think that at the certain moment you have the idea that you are not getting further and want to stop and there from the doubt, you start again and ask yourself why ….Sometimes very confronting but from confrontation you discover.
    I find it a very inspiring article!
    My journey of why started last year with my blog
    Would be a pleasure if you stop by.
    Best greetings,

  27. A fascinating and challenging article. I make a regular habit of asking myself ‘why have I stopped to take a picture here?’ But it is the next stage that is the most productive – allowing the time to ‘be with’ to ‘feel’ the subject and to explore different perspectives.

    1. That’s where we are different, Louis. I think some are like you, they need to stay and feel the subject, while others react more quickly and intuitively. One is not better than the other, only different.

  28. As in life one must try and live being conscious at all times, so when photographing something one must be totally conscious of everything about it. That’s when suddenly a angle, a ray of light or some other detail is noticed and can be captured. Once one becomes aware of this details they can then visual just what they want to capture when they are out taking photos. I often go for walks or step outside to take photos knowing the something is just right to capture a subject that I already have a vision of how I want it to look. That special moment when you see your photo and you know you got just what you envisioned and now you have the ability to share your vision, that is what keeps me connected. Wonderful blog here as a reminder.

  29. This is an aspect of photography that I had not considered before. I’m going to look over some of my images and see what I can learn about my intent. Thank you for providing a new way for me to play with my work.

  30. I usually feel that I have an intent and vision although sometimes the intent is more informal and is only to use the photography as a method of relaxation and escape. Other times my photographic vision is limited by my skill level and thus doesn’t match the personal vision that I had intended to bring to fruition. Your post addresses a very complex issue and is thought provoking. Thank you for visiting my blog and your encouraging comments.

  31. I think I am in the unfortunate category except for every now and then I might have some intention of how I want to capture the image and gives it the extra meaning.

  32. When I got into photography, I wanted to be technically sound so my concentration was all on the process and not much on the actual experience of the environment around me. Now, the technical side is more automatic/subconscious, and I just love losing myself in the scene around me ~ always learning (and always making mistakes to keep things interesting). Nice post.

    1. It makes you more confident with that technical knowledge although in itself it doesn’t necessarily make interesting images. Now when it’s automated you can focus on the more important part of capturing emotions and moods. Thanks for sharing your experience, Randall.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s