Posted by: kerryl29 | November 14, 2009

Preconceived Notions

A couple of months ago, I got a good chuckle after reading a blog entry from Guy Tal–an outstanding landscape photographer and writer–about the tangled origins of the term “previsualization.”  The term has achieved a connotation more or less as follows:  the ability to envision a capture-able image in one’s mind.  In deference to Guy’s impeccable logic, I’ll refer to this concept as visualization.

I must concede that I’m not a heavy practitioner of visualization.  Quasi-relativist that I am on so many matters that surround art in general and the craft of photography in particular, I’m not dismissing the notion outright; plenty of people who’ve undoubtedly forgotten more about photography than I’ll ever know swear by it.  It simply hasn’t seemed to work very well for me.

Part of my problem with the implementation of visualization is my concern that by adopting it, I’ll lock myself into a sort of tunnel vision and in so doing walk right past infinite viable image possibilities that require an open mind, devoid of preconceived notions, to be discovered.  My concern is pretty straight forward; if I’m preoccupied with shooting one thing I may end up being creatively blind to all sorts of other things that are just as compelling–if not more so–than the subject I’m fixated upon.

My general modus operandi, therefore, is to try to keep my mind as uncommitted as possible (and this is certainly more a matter of degree than anything approaching an absolute) when photographing…or, more accurately, when in a position to consider photographing.

And yet…on a few occasions I’ve succumbed to the allure of visualization.

One such example was in April of 2008 as I traveled from my Midwest base to Great Smoky Mountains National Park–my first spring trip to the Smokies  (I’d previously photographed in the Smokies in the fall).  For reasons I can’t fully recall, I had a vision in my head of a shot involving a melange of dogwood and redbud trees.  I had it in my head traveling to the Smokies and I couldn’t entirely shake it, but the conditions when I arrived appeared to make the shot unrealizable.  While the dogwood bloom was phenomenal that spring (best in at least a decade, I was told by the locals), I appeared to be too late for the redbud.  During the first couple of days I was there I saw almost no redbud blooms–just a few post-peak samples along the Little River Road and in Tremont.   I found countless other subjects to photograph during this remarkably productive trip and the dogwood/redbud vision essentially disappeared from my consciousness.

And then, on a partly cloudy afternoon on the seventh day of this eight-day-long shoot, I made the trek from my base in Townsend, Tennessee to Oconaluftee, in the North Carolina section of the park.  After parking in the visitors center lot, and wandering in the direction of the visitors center structure, I unexpectedly saw my shot.  There was  a spectacular dogwood between the building and the Newfound Gap Road.  On the other side of the road, on a steep hillside, were redbud trees in peak bloom, surrounded by fresh spring greenery.  The mosaic-like mix of colors, almost identical to the image I’d envisioned, was right there in front of me.  The composition, made to order for the compression of my 80-400 mm telephoto zoom lens, needed only the tiniest of fine-tuning to meet my expectations.  Days after I’d effectively given up on the shot, it hit me right between the eyes.


Dogwood and Redbud, Oconaluftee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

The moral of the story?  The irony of recognizing my own preconceived notion about…preconceived notions.



  1. Kerry nice post. Previsualize is akin to reassemble. Its hard for me to conceive that this is a word in the dictionary. To assemble again. Is there a redisassemble if you screw up whilst reassembling something?

    My understanding of visualization is to hunt down the strongest composition, before you take out the camera, but after you find something that catches your interest. Maybe this is the contemplation phase of photography and not visualizing. I try to prepare myself for the area I am going by studying others pictures, so I sort of know what to expect. But I do not have the brain capacity to do what you did. My approach is to wander around aimlessly until something catches my eye, but for sun up and downs, I guess I do have an idea of what I want to bring home.

    • Thanks, Tom.

      FWIW, I’ve had very limited success with visualization. My typical–and infinitely more successful–m.o. is to have a sense of the place I’m shooting (via previous on-site experience, the work of others, etc.) and, when on-site, look for something that captures my fancy. I try to keep as open a mind as possible, both in terms of subject matter and shooting style, though I’m undoubtedly circumscribed by some sense of predisposition.

  2. Awesome blogpost, didn’t thought this was going to be so awesome when I looked at your url!

  3. […] will be found and what a shot will look like on several past occasions right here on this blog.  I have “visualized” a scene on a few occasions, and gone out looking to fulfill a vision a few times.  But this is the […]

  4. […] redbud and dogwood adjoin.  The combination is one of my very favorites and I’ve only had one opportunity to capture flowering redbud and dogwood together–at Oconoluftee, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.  Only once until […]

  5. […] around the subject of “previsualization” (more accurately described simply as “visualization,” in my view) on this blog before.  I’ve also covered the notion of “the […]

  6. […] how it can lead to a kind of tunnel vision when out in the field.  That, with a serving of “previsualization” is what led to an entry I posted just last month.  In this most recent post, entitled […]

  7. […] don’t play the visualization game all that often, truth be told, but this was an exception, because I had an image in my head of […]

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