I ended on this note when mentoring on finding a photographic balance, “In part, having such ‘vision’ comes from innate talent, but you develop it through balancing your time expanding your knowledge with time practicing and experimentation. You have to apply the technology in the field. As you do, over time, you will pre-visualize your goals and objectives, and be inspired to find your style and creative vision to capture them.“
Our vision, enabling us to see the world, is a physiological ability most of us are blessed with. From where I live we see the waves rolling on to the beach, and the puffy clouds passing overhead, then a sailboat taking in the wind. All that we see in this way is by passive reception, or what is given. We can pick up a camera and put a viewfinder between our eyes and the outside world, yet this will not affect or change our passive reception. The shutter of the camera can be pressed, and with the aid of the sophisticated technology available today, it will make an excellent copy of our passive reception.
Active perception advances what we see, focusing our awareness, directing our attention. We observe and follow the flight of pelicans, and concentrate our visual acuity to isolate a passing vessel so it can be structurally identified and understood. Vision is the primary medium of thought. Active selectivity is a basic trait of vision, the process that establishes what the eye takes in, and indispensable to the functioning of our mind. From there, after applying our thought and thinking, what had been taken in can be projected out to the world through our mind’s eye, by way of theoretical or empirical science or expressive art. This projection outward, the summation of active perception and applied thought and thinking, forms our creative vision.
We, as seeing and thinking human beings, are all capable of creative vision. People apply it to astronomy, to biology, cooking, painting, compography, and any and all human endeavors. I am interested in ‘creative vision’ for photography and how it may be understood, improved, and inspired. It is through the pursuit of a visual awakening that a photographer may find a path to their personal creative vision, with the aspiration it may further transcend in time to be recognized as exceptional.
When we look through the viewfinder of our camera, frame our creative vision, the grail on pressing the shutter is photographic exceptionalism. Where does one begin this pursuit to master photography and achieve it? Every path towards a creative vision is a personal one. For you to succeed in bringing a new view of the world may take considerable time, require dedication, learning, unknown sacrifices, and lots of practice through trial and error, but you may find the best way to get started is to reflect on reality.
Begin by knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Using myself as an example, I’ve known since my early school days I was not gifted in learning languages, on the other hand I was quick to grasp the fundamentals of photography, which includes a mix of science and art. I had the physiological attributes, especially my alert and lucid eyesight. A landscape, wildlife, and event photographer can certainly benefit from a level of fitness, and a patient personality. These are general considerations; it’s up to you to understand what personal traits might apply in meeting your photographic objectives.
The next step can be to explore the biology of seeing. In my experience in photography I’ve never had anyone talk about the generalities of human vision and how this adds to developing your creative vision. For instance, our gaze is attracted most by areas of detail and luminance contrast. The detail is best seen by the three types of cones within our eyes that are also used for color perception, object/facial recognition, and represents the ‘what’ system. Luminance contrast, along with motion and depth perception, and special organization is noted by rods in our eyes and make up the (colorblind) ‘where’ system. Exploring the biological aspects of vision helps us to understand processes of information gathering about the world that we take in and use to re-construct (by photography and all visual arts) with a level of creativity to project outwards. This is one aspect to raising your level of creativity.
Finding your visual voice can be guided by having an inquiring mind interested in the history of photography and how pioneers in this field expressed their creative vision. Simply recording what you see is seldom memorable; it is how you see it that may inspire. Many famous painters began their artistic endeavors by copying the works of classical masters, and aspiring photographers can benefit from similar exercises. Look into photography’s history that began as far back as 1558 in Magiae Naturalis by Giovanni Battista della Porta having a description of a camera obscura, a pinhole camera used by painters such as Caravaggio and Vermeer. It continued to develop with the partnership Niepce and Daquerre in 1829, which began other innumerable improvements that bring us to photography today. Viewing (randomly selected examples) the work of others shows us how Don McCullin’s photograph of Hue, Vietnam captures what life is worth dying for, how David Hockney’s work exemplified by My Mother, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire explores how we see with flickering eyes, and how Philippe Halsman’s wonderful staging brings to life his creative vision, the photograph Dali Atomiens.
Sharpening our ability to think visually is a never ending process enabling (non-algorithmic) enhancement of our creative vision. A writer needs to be a wordsmith, and a photographer needs to be visually literate. Although, there are no absolute rules, there has to be syntax within our composition. The right balance can be viewed in many forms; asymmetry vs. symmetry, distortion vs. accuracy, complexity vs. simplicity, randomness vs. sequentially, sharpness vs. diffusion, represents a few. We use line, color, shape, direction, texture, scale, dimension, and motion to identify and recognize the world. In using photography to communicate and project our creative vision of the world, while achieving our intended response from the viewer, we need to skillfully apply these elements.
In exploring these paths to your creative vision a computer can be a great asset, or a distraction. Though given credit for its artificial intelligence it is not capable of perception. The misconception occurs from the countless hours one can spend with software applications, blindly running through any number of possible perceptible reactions until a successful reaction is stumbled upon. Happenstance is not a true path to creative vision. Nevertheless, a computer is a powerful resource for physiology, history, and visual literacy leading the way to discovering your personal creative vision. Photography can be as simple as pressing the shutter especially today through the innovations of technology, but with higher aspirations in mastering your creative (photographic) vision, you need talent, knowledge, and skill in science and art, while continually, frequently applying your finger pressure on the shutter.