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Vision in and of itself is one of the most important aspects of photography, but creative vision is a subject that has be be developed, quite often over time. A photograph without creative vision is just a photo. But, with creative vision almost any photo can be taken beyond the everyday, run of the mill image and become an inspired image, one with meaning where the viewer can read one of many feelings into it.

What is Creative Vision?

Everyone has seen images that have moved them in one way or another, whether by composition, lighting, impact or a combination of these or any of the different design elements. These are the images that leave you asking “how did they get that shot?” or saying “I wish I had a shot like that.

While some may say that perfect conditions (light, subject, composition) or great equipment are responsible for the top images out there, there's more to it than that. What these photos have in common is one primary element - creative vision. This is the one thing captivating images have in common. Vision is the thought behind the shot, where a concept or idea is taken from the mind to a visual actuality. Being able to clearly transfer this from one to the other determines how others grasp your vision.

Quite often, creative vision is being in the field and when you come upon a setting you know what shot needs to be taken to bring out the essence of the scene. Sometimes, tough, it takes a minute or two to really find the shot amongst the large canvas laid out in front of your eyes. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's hidden and needs to be searched for.

This vision is the ability to visualize the final image, often called previsualization, before the shutter button is tripped. It's when you're out shooting and something jumps out at you screaming it want's a photo taken of it. As soon as you see it, you know it.

Develop the Vision to Create Powerful Images

How is creative vision developed? How are photos taken that are moving and powerful? Some may have creative vision intuitively but others have to learn or develop it over time. You don't just wake up one day and creative vision is there. The vision you have today should also change as more time is put into developing it and forging ahead with new ideas, inspiration and techniques.

What are some of the different ways to sharpen or create a personal vision and use it to produce inspired photographs.

Seek Inspiration

Look at the work of other noted photographers who shoot the same type of images you draw ideas from. Study their work to see what can be gleaned from their best shots whether it be their use of light, compositional elements, telling a or or how they evoke emotion. Look for the unseen elements as well, the feelings, meaning and thought process behind their work. Early on when I switched from sports to nature photography one person who inspired my with both his images and words was John Shaw. His work inspired my so I used it as a way to improve how I looked at things.

Look at your own work closely. Compare your best work to those that you are not as proud to show off to others. If there is one area or style that is predominantly better than another this shows what you are passionate about and what inspires you to want to get even better at. Concentrate on this area and watch how much your work will improve with trying new concepts or techniques.

Go Beyond the Technical

They're out there for everyone to see. What? Those technically perfect images where everything is just right but something is missing. They have good composition, nice lighting, good subject material but they are also lacking something to really pull the viewer into the show and want to be there.

They lack the much needed creative vision. Vision goes well beyond the technical aspects to allow the story telling or moodiness of your ideas and concepts to shine. It's all about telling a story. When they say a picture's worth 1,000 words this is where that phrase comes from. If it only tells a few words it's not conveying the message, whther that message is showing off your own unique way of looking at the world around you or letting emotions come out with what's happening in front of your eyes.

Don't just take a picture to show what was there, try to capture and portray the essence of the scene or moment that represents your vision when you were there. I tell people a lot to try and take a shot that shows what got their interest in the first place. Get rid of everything that doesn't add to the story and show what caught your attention. Remember that photography is a process of elimination - getting rid of everything that isn't important so the viewer knows what your intentions are.

Sunrise at Boulder Beach Acadia
Seeing the water coming at Boulder Beach in Acadia I knew right away I wanted a very slow shutter speed to capture a very different mood and feel to the shot

Powerful Compositions

Your aim should not be to take a photo but rather to make or create a photo. After letting your inspiration be seen to allow for the creative vision to be brought into the shot, now is the time to let the technical side come into play. Just as a technically sound image with no emotion does not work, the same holds true for good impression with poor techniques or composition. Composition is the bridge that closes the gap between creative vision and the viewer.

Quite a few people have heard me say take time to soak in what's in front of the camera as this is the inhale process while the shutter click is the exhale. The time between the two is just as important as this is when the composition is set up to bring the two together. Work with the light, the layers laid out in front of you, the colors, the elements available to work with to show there was some thought put in to making the shot rather than blindly firing away at what's there.

Take risks, though. Try new things, look out for a different angle than what is the norm for a particular shot, explore new techniques. You never know what might work.

Bristlecone pine and Milky Way
Lining up the trees with the Milky Way was the composition part. Next was more technical in getting the proper settings for the Milky Way and light painting.


Know It When You See It

There are times you're not even looking or your looking at something differently and it hit's you. We are always surrounded by many photographic possibilities. I tell people from time to time on a trip that I'll find them a shot no matter where we are and what's there. Something as ordinary as a rusted bolt head can result in an exciting image. This is an example of really looking as you move about. One time for me it was a red vine on a tree screaming to have its picture taken. This is why we need an experienced eye and mastery of technique to inspire people when the same subject would otherwise go unnoticed. We need to be sensitive to colors, shapes, textures, and how they can combine or contrast to make an exciting image. Light can't be forgotten as well.

Salto Chico on Pehoe Lake
Right away when I saw this I knew it would make a pleasing image

Take Your Time

Time is something people hold very dear. But, when it comes to taking a photograph, the time we spend taking an image is worth every second, no minute, that it takes to create the image. You've seen it. People drive along through a beautiful park, get to an iconic location and hop out to grab a quick shot and move on to the next great spot. Yes, they've taken a picture but did they capture the true essense of the moment. How much time do you think Andsel Adams took to set up a shot? The sand in an hourglass may have been close to gone on some of the shots he took from the time he got there to the time he took his first shot. While I haven't taken that much time, I have spent up to five minutes setting up an image that caught my eye and I knew I wanted it to be just right. It may not be as absolute perfect as I might wish with a stray branch here or there, but getting the camera set just exctly where I wanted it and getting all of the camera settings just right made the result worth all of the work and moving around to get it right for this image at Reflection Lake in Mount Rainier. When given the chance whilke out shooting, don't look at your watch, take the time to set it up as your vision wants it to appear.

Mount Rainier Reflection Lakes paintbrush
Right away when I saw this I knew it would make a pleasing image


Don't lose track of what’s important, though. Losing focus on what matters to you can result in photos that lack creative vision. Find ways - hopefully new - to photograph things you're passionate about. Creativity develops by taking new challenge. Push yourself. If you don't try new things your photography will stay the same and you won't grow. By not growing, you're actually losing ground as other photographers around you are out there pushing the envelope with new techniques, styles and visions.

Think back to when you first started off in photography and what you loved about it. Maybe you were passionate about wildlife photos, or enjoyed the details of flowers or bugs from macro or maybe you got into photography because you wanted to recreate the incredible landscape images that Ansel Adams produced. Whatever it was, look back at your old photos, even it it means pulling out slide files and rekindle what it was that first interested you in outdoor photography.

Remember, photography is about looking for ways to use your own unique eye to capture the beauty of the world around us and share this to others through your work. Just as you grow and have a new vision in life, strive to grow and portray a new vision with your photography.


Salto Chico on Pehoe Lake
Walking across a bridge on a northern lights workshop the details of the colors, textures and patterns caught my eye

How do you develop your creative vision?

Get out and explore. Be out there at the right time. Take time to look and see. Yes, there is a very big difference between looking and seeing and it's the seeing that leads to finding that creative shot that when you make a print of it you know you want it hanging on the walls of your home. Look through the group of winners of major photo competitions to give you an idea of the creative vision the photographers had when they made those shots to give you ideas. Getting ideas and inspiration from others is not a bad thing as you have to have some kind of image in mind most of the time when you go out and shoot.