A Man Visualizes His Image

I don’t know much about Ansel Adams. I’d only recognize a few of his pictures without help. But since he was one of the best black-and-white photographers of the 20th century, I need to know something about him. Last July, I got the book Examples: The Making of Forty Photographs to learn.

Photo by Cedric Wright

The first thing that struck me was that Adams never uses the phrase “take a picture.” He always, without fail, says, “make a picture.” For him, pictures do not exist, waiting to be snatched. They must be made. He describes all the ways he framed, exposed, and washed his photos to get the desired effect.

Speaking of the desired effect, Adams writes a lot about the importance of visualizing your image ahead of time. It’s not enough, apparently, to just snap a photo and decide what you think about it later. You must pre-conceive the image so that you know what you’re going for. This is what Adams calls the “internal event,” which he explains in this short clip.

The whole key lies very specifically in seeing it in the mind’s eye, which we call visualization. The picture has to be there clearly and decisively, and if you have enough craft and, you know, working and practicing, you can then make the photograph you desire.

I think this same technique can be applied to arts other than photography. Often, when I begin a poem or an essay or a story, I meander around on the page, trying to get my thoughts in order. I would say this is the equivalent of taking a walk, looking for subjects to make photographs of. Eventually, my imagination catches on something and I have an impression (not quite a visualization) of what the final written product could be like.

I’m sure everyone has experienced some version of this. How often have you been talking with your friends when one of you says something and you think, “That would make a good movie?” In a way, you have preconceived the whole story in your head, based purely on one offhand comment. Of course, the final product is rarely like what exists in your imagination, but that’s where the craft comes in. All the artist’s work and practice is for making the most of those moments of visualization.

Further reading on visualization in photography

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