Posted by: kerryl29 | October 14, 2020

Looking for Images vs. Finding Them

I returned from my photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this past weekend; posts covering the specifics of the trip will ensue, beginning next week.  But a series of experiences during my time in the UP placed an idea for a blog entry into my head, and that’s the theme of this post.

Wild Bleeding Hearts & Shamrocks, Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

I’ve danced 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 shot” mentality when in the field, and tied it all up in a bow or at least attempted to do so.  But I want to return to the subject now.

Lake Willougbhy Black & White, Orleans County, Vermont

There is, in my view, a stark difference between actively looking for a particular image, or type of image, and finding an image or images.  In various previous blog entries, I’ve mentioned that I’ve “stumbled across” this scene or that, which may imply a certain amount of passivity to my explorations. Drawing that inference is, I think, essentially correct.

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

Typically, when I’m out exploring with my camera in tow, I’m looking for something that catches my eye.  And while I acknowledge that it would be folly to operate under the belief that I’m some sort of tabula rasa, unaffected by my experiences and biases, I do think there’s a difference between broadly letting myself react to something–anything–that I find interesting (i.e. finding) and looking for something in particular.

When you look for something in particular, there’s a very real possibility that you won’t find anything else worth photographing.  That’s the danger, in my estimation, of seeking out specific images. 

Forest Floor, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

This subject was planted in my head–again–during my time in the UP because…well, a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the autumn is, in essence, a trip about fall color.  There’s a tendency to wander around looking for the brightest hues.  The problem with this mindset, as you might imagine, is that if your prime directive is color, you’re going to naturally overlook scenes where color is, at the very least, not the prime driver of what makes the scene photogenic.  And, yes, scenes absolutely do exist in the UP in the fall where color is a secondary or tertiary element.  In fact, there are interesting scenes, under such circumstances, where color is entirely irrelevant.  (I believe I found several such spots while I was on location last week and plan to reveal them in a later entry.)  But since autumn in the UP is, as I said, more or less by definition a trip about color, there’s a tendency to lock oneself into a kind of tunnel vision and be so guided by the notion of finding and photographing the most vibrant locations that everything else kind of falls by the wayside.

South Side of Haleakala Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

This example of the UP is just one illustration of the aforementioned tunnel vision problem.  There is an innate tendency, I believe, to carry a preconceived notion about photo opportunities–even those located in places that the photographer has never previously visited–along for the ride, in the form of an intangible piece of gear.  If my mindset is that I’m going to photograph waterfalls or tropical beaches or classic desert scenes…what am I going to overlook at those locations that I’ve informally classified as representative of these genres?

Date Palm, Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Some of this tunnel vision, as I have implied, is certainly inevitable.  But if you can remain aware of this inherent bias, it can be possible to overcome it to at least some degree and that may be enough to keep at least a few gems from being left on the cutting room floor.

Otter Lake black & white, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan



  1. Kerry, thanks for your thoughts. This is a syndrome I constantly struggle with, simply due to my temperament (what my wife describes as “laser focus”). When I have an objective on a hike, I instinctively make a beeline for that objective, forgetting to look around along the way. I have to constantly remind myself to scan my surroundings for targets of opportunity.

    Looking forward to seeing your UP images!

    • Thanks Steve. It was a good trip and I’ll have plenty to display, though I suspect it will take several weeks to process all the images.

      One thing that might help a bit with the tunnel vision problem is to bury the objective. In other words, occasionally just take a hike or visit a location, without any specific objective in mind right out of the shoot. You can’t be laser focused on a specific piece of subject matter if you have no such piece in the first place. 🙂

  2. Lake Willoughby looks stunning in black and white. The perspective, ratios and contrasts in that capture are brilliant. Glad you enjoyed your trip. What beautiful vistas. And how lucky you were to be out there. 🌹🌷💐💚❤️🧡

    • Thanks!

      It’s never failed to impress me how well that Lake Willoughby scene photographed in monochrome. I didn’t beat anyone over the head with the principle, but all of the images accompanying this entry were chosen because they played against type: black and white renderings of scenes on fall color trips (the Lake Willoughby image is from a New England fall color shoot, ditto the photo from the UP); a wild flower intimate from a waterfall excursion, an intimate of lichen patterns on a seaside excursion, etc. The point is, the less intent one is on fulfilling a preexisting theme, the more likely one is to find these against-type opportunities.

      • I like it and I’ll try this. I do this with paint all the time but forget it also works for photography.

  3. It pays to scan. Often I’ll turn around and see new shots I would have missed. Love your selection.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. I appreciate what you’ve shared here, Kerry. As a new hobby photographer, I’m taking photos of everything, so I’m not currently falling into the trap of tunnel vision; however, your post is a great minder to be careful not to fall into the trap in the future. (I have fallen into the trap in other areas of creativity, and, subsequently, felt like a dope for letting that trap hinder my progress.) Great post and beautiful pictures! -Ann

    • Thanks very much, and great attitude!

  5. […] is what led to an entry I posted just last month.  In this most recent post, entitled “Looking for Images vs. Finding Them,” I discussed my attempt to avoid falling into a trap, during a trip to the North Woods […]

  6. […] the importance of visualizing an image for a successful photographic outcome. I have opined on this basic subject a number of times over the years on this […]

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