Vision Deconstructed

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Your vision as a photographer is what will make your photos stand out from the crowd. It’s the vision when transformed by the visual language into an image that transmits who the photographer behind that image is. A photographer’s vision is the formative link behind his or her photographic signature. Without a clearly developed vision a photographer will only be capturing images that look similar to everybody else’s.

In my post Vision is Beginning I wrote that the photographer’s vision is where the photographic process begins – or where it should begin. Too many photographers don’t pay attention to their vision; they just never get beyond the technical part of photography or beyond seeing light or composition.

A vision is not something one can consciously develop from scratch. It takes time – many years, a whole lifetime as a matter of fact – for a photographer to develop his or her vision. It comes with experience, by being conscious of why you photograph what you photograph and also being aware of the processes behind the vision. Firstly when talking about vision, it’s a good idea in order to get an understanding of what vision is, to split it into two; personal vision and photographic vision. The personal vision is our understanding of the world around us and ourselves. It’s 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. While personal vision is the how you see life in general, photographic vision is how you see life when the camera is put to the eye.

But what goes into and configures the photographic vision is not only your personal vision. Just as important are your observational skills, your craftsmanship and your emotional investment in the photographic process. Finally your talent is also coming into the equation, but talent has never been a limitation for any artist. As far as I see it, talent sets the parameters for your creative abilities, but hardly any artist ever hits the roof of his or her talent. The only thing that matters is to put in enough work.

That your observational skills influence your photographic vision is pretty obvious I think. The more you are able to take notice of what goes on around you, the more you will be able to discover potential images that are important for you to capture. How much technical knowledge do you need, then? It’s a classical question in all arts. The fact is the better craftsman you are; the better able you are to transform your vision into a final image that encompasses your intentions. On the other hand many brilliant photographers make do with very little technical knowledge.

As far as I am concerned the most formative element behind a photographic vision and the one that has the most impact on your photographic product – your images – is what I call the emotional investment. If you want to create pictures that others care about, that the viewers feel they can relate to and they are attracted to, you will have to be just as engaged in the subject during the shooting process yourself. If all that draws you to take a certain pictures is some beautiful lines or some delightful light; that in itself is never going to make a strong image. If you don’t feel a picture is really important to take – for your heart and yourself – then you might just as well forget about taking it – at least if your intention is to create compelling and telling images.

To sum it up, your vision as a photographer is partly built on your photographic vision, which then again is built on your personal vision, your emotional engagement, your observational skills, you craftsmanship and finally to a minor extent your talent. How much do you pay attention to develop these formative elements in your vision as a photographer? And what do you emphasize the most?

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About Otto von Münchow

Photographer based in Norway
This entry was posted in Photographic Reflections, Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Vision Deconstructed

  1. disperser says:

    For me it’s mostly an subconscious process.

    No doubt over the years I’ve learned to see possibilities, different compositions, to evaluate a scene, examine a subject, and see beyond the casual glance for something else that might be there.

    Still, the process is not a conscious effort. I’m sometimes told I have an “eye” for this or that . . . the thing is, people often see things in my photographs that are not the same thing as what led me to snap the photo, and then I’m congratulated for what I showed them.

    BUT . . . I could not have identified what they saw ahead of them seeing it. I take a photo I like. I might crop it for what I consider a better composition, or I might leave it as is, but I don’t set out to accomplish any particular thing.

    In part, that is why I think I will never be a professional photographer. Listening to the pros, they envision a final product, plan shots, have a particular goal in mind. Even as I think that half the time they are full of themselves, if they are in fact doing all that, and that is what people recognize them for, then I forever will be an amateur . . . but I still like my photos.

    • I think most photographers shoot the way you describe here. But the question is how you train your subconsciousness? It’s been aware of the process and evaluate your work both before shooting and after you return with images. During the shooting itself I hardly ever think, but hen more than anything trust my intuition. Besides I think however you shoot doesn’t have anything to do whether you are a pro or an amateur. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. You pretty well summed it all up! 😀

  3. Gunta says:

    To me the camera is like an extra set of eyes. I see the world very differently when I have a camera in my hand. I pay more attention.

  4. Vicki says:

    I think that in full daylight, my whole process in making an image is purely subconscious, I want to capture and share a scene. But when it comes to low light photography (or in the shade), then I am consciously thinking about creating a visual effect. I’m thinking about creating emotion or atmosphere.
    If I don’t manage to quite get it right, then I tweak it a little in pp, but not too much. I sill want the viewer to feel my emotive sense of the scene.

    I must admit I rarely make photos in bright sunlight. The result seems to be just a ‘happy snap’. I prefer low light images that draw the viewer’s eye to the detail that I want them to see. Maybe that comes from being a sketch artist and water colour painter many years ago. I like the subtlety in a photographic image. I like the softness in the light.

    Great post (as usual).

    • As I said in a different comment, I am very much a subconscious photographer as well. Besides you seem to have find a way to shoot that is clearly your way and coming from the hear. Which is great. And in the end most of us want to the viewer to get a sense of our emotional response to the subject. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Vicky.

  5. Interesting post – thank you. It’s taken me years to work out my photographic ‘vision’, although in truth I think it’s more of a work in progress that will continually develop in it’s details although the overall idea is there. What’s interesting to me is that having finally been able to ‘pin it down’ (sort of!) I realise that the basic elements have been present in my photography right from the start and have always featured in my personal favourite images. My thought is that ‘vision’ is more of a subconscious, emotional thing to be realised rather than something we can set out to achieve.

    • What you say about vision is absolutely right, first it is indeed an ongoing process, and then it’s not something you can decide to make. But still, by learning more about photography and the creative process you can accommodate the development of you vision. Thanks for your input, Noeline.

  6. leecleland says:

    Thoughtful post. Having taken many, many snapshots with SLR cameras it is only since buying my DSLR and having the ability of the computer to view them easily that I have taken the time to really look at what I take and what I like. That study has and still continues to be fascinating and like Noeline I found that the basic elements have always been present even in my snapshots. These days I am much more aware of my preferences and with this knowledge can expand and experiment with an idea in mind. I do still lapse and take snapshots purely for the fun of recording a moment in time 🙂

    • I think what you and Noeline are talking about is valid for all photographers. Because our vision is part how we are, that element will always be present. But as soon as we start to work more with the photographic process our vision as photographers start to develop much clearer. Thank you for the comment.

  7. Truly inspirational, Otto.
    This is another one of those things that I believe can change over time. I was very young when I went to college for photography, only sixteen. They taught you the technical stuff but “vision” was something I had to develop on my own. By the time I finished school I was still so young and the world was all sparkly and I had a camera. I wasn’t all that discriminate of what I shot. By the time I was in my 30s I had several cameras and my vision was different. Then again in my 50s it was different again. My most telling comparison comes from two visits to Maui. One when I was 30 and one when I was 50. From the first trip, I have mountains of photographs while the second one has far fewer but more meaningful photos.

    • You are absolutely right, Michelle. Our vision change as we grow older. It get sharper, but it also changes direction as you point out here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Chillbrook says:

    An incredibly thoughtful and thought provoking article as always Otto. I always gain so much from everything that you post.

  9. orlando gustilo says:

    Well done! Beginning photography few of us realize our biggest asset is our own unique way of looking at the world, our own way of relating to the sensory world. Maybe we learn by doing and learn after doing for a while though someone else farther along could point out some insights that may prove useful – once we realize it ourselves lol

  10. Lisa Gordon says:

    As always, it is such a pleasure to visit you here, Otto.
    Great post.

  11. Very True! It is interesting that I have always taken pictures in order to have original images to use as reference for my paintings. What you say above applies to panting and writing as well. I have been an artist for many years and just now I am focusing (no pun intended) on photography as yet another art form, not just a means to an end product…a painting. I feel that my photography better represents my vision as an artist than my paintings! It has taken about 40 years to get to this point…I am an infant again, in the world of photography! Thank you as always, for sharing!!

    • Have wonderful to be an infant again! A whole new world awaiting you. And, yes, I believe the same regards for vision apply to other works of art as well. Thank you for commenting.

  12. treesshrubs says:

    Great discussion…..I do sometimes think that how i resonate with my environment is definately there in my images. Im always stoked when I look at one of my images and think yes! Thats how it is. Thanks Trees

  13. YellowCable says:

    I completely agreed. However, the two are hard to separate in practice. I think it takes lot of practice to have both visions together during the photo shoot. I think this might be the reason that good camera is the one that is with you when you have the visions.

  14. themofman says:

    As an illustrator first and photographer close second, I consider vison through artistic photography in the following way. Forgive me if I sound a little blah but defining my creative processes like this helps me to understand and express what I do as a visual artist:

    Creative vision is the ability to recognize a person, place, event or other thing as not only what it actually is but in a way that amplifies or intensifies its existence and/or meaning on the human psyche. Creative vision may also involve the adding of one or more profound meanings to that person, place, event or other thing, and it is needed before that person, place, event or other thing is presented or expressed through some artistic means; like photography.

    Photographic vision; therefore, is profound foresight on the creative presentation of an image of a person, place, event or other thing through the recording of light or other electromagnetic radiation.

    • What you say makes perfect sense. In many ways I think it’s quite the same as I am saying in the post, but with different words. I see intent behind your understanding of vision, which I think is one of the most important elements shaping one’s vision. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Allan.

  15. Thanks for the inspiration advice…

  16. Interesting post Otto. I feel a conscious connect to the entire process from visualizing to shooting and processing the image are essential. My work related photography for news magazines and dailies is very different from what I post on my blog, however I don’t find my overall approach to both any different. Although, I must confess a slight overindulgence to the “emotional” connect to my personal photos.

    • I think what you say at the end, it’s the case for most professional photographers. Shooting on assignments doesn’t always allow for much emotional investment. Thanks for sharing your experience, Shivani.

  17. M says:

    Hej Otto, återigen ett intressant och lärorikt inlägg. Läser, funderar, försöker dra slutsatser och plockar ut det som känns mest viktigt att ta med sig just nu. Har ingen uttalad el medveten vision el intention med mitt fotande ännu, tillåter mig fortfarande att utforska, undersöka och lära mig det tekniska handhavandet. Känner dock en längtan efter att medvetet kunna uttrycka något med mina bilder. Vad och varför är fortfarande obesvarade frågor för mig.
    Hälsningar
    Monica

    • Jeg tror ikke det er viktig med en klart definert eller uttalt vision, det viktigste er prosessen og hvordan du forholder deg til det å ta bilder. Det å utforske, undersøke og lære er noe at det mest nyttige en kan gjøre. Så lenge vi er nysgjerrig vil vi fortsette å utvikle oss. Takk for at du deler din erfaring, Monica.

  18. Phil Lanoue says:

    I believe there is considerable wisdom in your essay here, and I enjoyed reading it.
    For me sometimes the best or perhaps easiest explanation of how I come to take a lot of my photos is that I ‘see it’, often before it even happens. In my case of course I’m referring to wildlife. But it could apply to other subjects as well.
    Not sure that makes total sense or if I’m explaining it properly.

  19. I feel like every time I try to do things based on my “vision”, it doesn’t go well. If I do things based on what feels good, it almost always does work out in the end. I figure my vision is the compilation of the whole of my work, and people can figure that out if they want to over the long haul, or not. What we’re attracted to as creative people shows what we care about – plus all that other stuff you said. Good post. I’ll be thinking about it today. Thanks!

    • I think what you say is important. If we try to impose a vision, it won’t work. When we work and are creative without thinking about our vision, alas there it is. Thanks, Linda.

  20. rangewriter says:

    I agree with what a few others have mentioned. For me, simply having a camera or even wishing I had a camera makes me see things more clearly. The viewfinder helps me really view what my eyes see, to notice the details, to marvel at the light, the lines, and the beauty. There’s not much depth to my work, but doing it always makes me feel better and more in tune with my surroundings.

  21. Thanks for the thoughtful post Otto (and thanks for stopping by my page recently). I really appreciate your ideas on photography throughout your blog. This post in particular is inspiring me to be more mindful of this when I photograph. I think I have a subconscious vision, but I admittedly rarely think about it. Thanks and I look forward to reading more from you.

  22. Gertie says:

    Jahaja…inga kommentarer till ditt inlägg, förutom att jag håller med till fullo…och att jag beundrar och även avundas dig ditt driv…ja, jag vet, jag har påtalat det förut, men Otto, jag blir helt matt:)
    Jag får dåligt samvete, jag tänker att jag borde skärpa mig och återuppta min pedagogiska verksamhet…men, jag orkar inte…jag har gjort mitt på det området och nu tänker jag faktiskt ägna mig åt MIG SJÄLV!?!…ajjabajja…så får man inte säga, men det skiter jag i…jag säger det ändå:)

    Du Otto, jag blev både rörd, glad och full i skratt när jag läste din kommentar hos mig…tala om att pricka rätt, att förstå sammanhanget och omständigheterna…ja du, återigen…tack min själsfrände!!

    Med ålderns och erfarenhetens rätt gör jag numer precis som jag vill…jag fotar, jag målar, jag skriver vad jag vill och tänker…passar det så passar det, om inte så är det inte mitt problem.
    Jag läser dina inlägg och jag hoppas verkligen att dina elever tar till sig av din kunskap och entusiasm…bättre lärare kan de inte få, tror jag:)
    Vore roligt att ses någon gång, någonstans…vi är ju ytterst rörliga båda två och förr eller senare passar säkert tid, omständigheter och världsdel ihop…see You my Friend!

    • Ingen grunn til å få dårlig samvittighet, Gertie. Det er ingen plikt eller en nødvendighet å drive med opplæring. Du har bidratt tidligere på det feltet, og nå sprer du istedenfor glede og inspirasjon med ditt kreative arbeid og dine fantastiske bilder. For meg henger undervisning tett sammen med entusiasme og et engasjement for å hjelpe andre. Hvis ikke en har det, bør man heller ikke drive med opplæring. Og det er helt OK det. Vi bidrar bare på andre måter – som du med dine bilder. Uansett tenker vi alle på oss selv på et eller annet vis – og det er ikke noe galt i det. Vi må ta vare på oss selv, både som menneske og som kunstner/kreativ sjel. Så er det jo fantastisk at du har anledning til å gjøre akkurat som du vil, Det er jo noe vi alle drømmer om.

      Jeg blir selvsagt glad at du blir rørt over mine ord, men i like stor grad blir jeg av dine ord. Du inspirer også med dine ord og tanker. Din erfaring deler du således på andre måter enn gjennom ren pedagogisk virksomhet. Takk for din omtanke. Og, ja, jeg håper virkelig vi får anledning til å treffes – et eller annet sted.

  23. I remember seeing photographers who’d frame their face and eyes, holding their hands in a way that seemed to be taking in a particular view, blocking out distractions. It looked affected to me and I thought it was unnecessary. But I do understand what they were hoping to achieve. I like to experiment with taking a fresh look at a scene and sometimes isolating aspects of a landscape that might not appear to be the most natural focal point. I am not blessed with a particularly artistic eye, but I put a lot of effort into practice! Thank you, Otto. I enjoy your lessons!

    • I don’t know what you would call, by I think you have a lot of creativity in you, not the least judging by your blog. For all of us it pops to the surface in different ways, but wanting for that to happen is a big drive for us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Debra.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing your thought, Otto 🙂
    I totally agree with your views and personally I could feel what you said here.
    Even affter using a DSLR for 3-4 years, I was just taking normal shots.
    Once I started thinking about my images and started visualizing what I wanted before clicking, my photos got better.
    Still a long way to go 🙂
    This forum has taught quite a lot and I really have to thank all nice people around for inspiring and encouraging me to take better photos.

  25. icastel says:

    Great post, Otto! I think the beauty of this post is the fact that you’re able to pull all of these seemingly loose concepts into a single idea. I feel like at times I’m aware of one thing, but not the other; then next time I’m focusing on the thing that I neglected last time, but forget about something else. This is definitely good perspective … thank you, sir.

  26. Dalo 2013 says:

    It is strange how I the transition between when I first got into photography to where I am now has changed so much…and it will continue to change. Getting out into the field and appreciating the non-technical side of shooting is where the true heart of photography lies…and you have captured this essence in your informative posts (and beautiful photography).

    • I totally agree with you. Technique is important in order to express your intent and vision, but it’s all the rest not related to technique that is the most important part of photography. Thanks, Randall, great comment.

  27. Dina says:

    Very inspiring words as usual, Otto. You always give us something to ponder about.

  28. PC PHOTO says:

    Well said, yes it can take a lifetime to have a vision! Too many times we think putting pen to paper will be the defining moment as to what our photographic vision is. It is sad for those that give up because they think they have no vision or direction.

    • I agree, we all have some kind of vision that reflects our personality. But it’s hard to make in manifest itself and to express it strongly through our chosen artistic medium.

  29. Carrie says:

    Often I may think that when viewing through the camera I am so absorbed in what I am seeing and really takeing it all in, only to find when a see the photo on the computer so many details I missed while looking through the lense, just as a bug on a flower or a piece of branch or grass in the foreground. It is these little things that each time I look through the camera I try to remember to watch for so I am seeing the whole picture and not just my subject. There is a fine line between letting yourself go into complete unconsious mode to retaining some consious thought as to what you are captureing. Great blog as all ways.

    • You are very right about this balance. Yes, a photographer needs to be aware of everything that happens within the frame, but the more you can evaluate this instinctively, the better. And this comes with practice. Thank you for the nice words, Carrie.

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