Go With the Flow

(© Ian Plant) George Lepp just posted an excellent article on the importance of pre-visualization, in which he discussed using modern digital technology to help you fully realize your artistic vision. While pre-visualization is certainly an important aspect of the photographic process, I thought I’d use George’s article as an opportunity to talk about the flip side of the coin. To me, part of what makes photography unique and special among art forms is its ability to capture rare convergences of shape, color, light, and action—the “decisive moment” of Henri Cartier-Bresson. In order for a photographer to capture such rare moments, he or she must stay attuned to the subject, and above all remain flexible and nimble (both physically and artistically speaking). When the above-mentioned convergences occur, the photographer must be willing and able to react quickly, even if that means abandoning any pre-visualized ideals.

I recently spent four days backcountry kayaking on Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands, waiting for a day when the lake calmed enough for me to enter and photograph a series of sandstone sea caves on remote Devils Island. I’ve been trying for years to get into these caves, but the lake never cooperated. Luck finally turned my way on the third day of the trip, when the lake settled down for a few hours. As you can imagine, I had many pre-visualized photographs in my head, so I immediately set about to find and capture images that corresponded to my vision.

As it turned out, realizing the ideal proved to be difficult. I did, however, notice a pleasing convergence of shape and color that caught my eye. The pre-visualization went out the window, and I started to react to what the landscape was offering me. I used the deep striations in the sandstone cave as leading lines, encouraging the eye to travel to the porthole view of deep green water on the other side. Then I noticed how the scene changed when a wave came in and filled the space at the bottom of the image frame. I took a series of shots as the water ebbed and flowed, until I got the perfect wave to complete my composition.

Pre-visualization is a great thing, something that everyone should practice and master. Learning to go with the flow is an equally important skill, one which will help you fully unlock your creative potential. The two should not be viewed as being at odds with one another—they are parallel skills rather than opposites—and when you engage in one, you should never fully turn off the other. They go together, hand in hand, in the photographer’s toolkit.

P.S. Visit my Dreamscapes photoblog for more tips and techniques from me and some of my colleagues. Join my monthly email mailing list for photo tips and exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox!