Pre Visualization - Street Photography Techniques


Do you ever find yourself walking the streets kinda aimlessly and hoping images are going to find you rather than you finding them? I think we have all been there, I’ve certainly had some lacklustre days shooting street. On those days I tended to walk further, and shoot more, yet I was often left disappointed with my end results. I’d often shoot street for 6+ hours at a time, and even with that time frame I would get carried away, hurrying the process due to thinking I was missing a shot down the street. I’d see something that appeals to me, find a composition that works and I’d take the shot, and then move on until my eye catches something else. What I’d end up with is rushed images that could be much better, with a little pre visualization. 

Pre Visualization is a term first used by Ansel Adams, who admittedly wasn’t a street photographer. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he is perhaps the most famous landscape photographer ever. But what does Pre-Visualization mean, and how can something first coined by a landscape photographer help when shooting on a chaotic street. Pre-Visualization - is the ability to see a finished image before making the exposure. Personally, I think that the term Pre-Visualization is very well suited to street photographers. Some think that you need to be ready in a split second as a street photographer, kinda like a reactionary snap shooter style photographer. A moment comes right at you, and you’ve got to be ready to nail the exposure. This is true to an extent, plenty of people shoot that style, the quick fire raw street style, but honestly the best ones that do, still pre-visualize the image as much as possible. Henri Cartier-Bresson (most famous NYC street photographer) didn’t walk aimlessly reacting to people walking in his direction, it might look like that happened. He would have to be one lucky photographer to just stumble across exposures without any thought process, framing them perfectly. What separates his images from others is the planning, the pre-visualization and his thought process. It’s planned spontaneity in a way. The framing is well thought out, the passage of the subject is expected and the camera settings are in place. All that is left is a release of the shutter when the subject arrives in place. Henri Cartier-Bresson knew exactly what he wanted to get from each of those shutter releases, that is pre-visualization, it might have taken him only 5 seconds, it might have taken longer, but the point is that pre visualization was used, no guesswork. Other Street Photographers might be more loose with the visualization, but even just having the ability to sidestep as a subject approaches because you can see the image would be better taken 2 ft to your right, is pre visualization. It’s not seeing, aiming shooting and hoping the scene pulls itself together, it’s having a say in the formation of the image.

Shoot less, think more. If we spend less time shooting like as a reactionary photographer, we enable ourselves time to think and visualize better. If we are romping down the street like we have got somewhere to be, taking shots left, right, and center then we are limiting ourselves and striving for nothing more than quantity over quality, whilst hoping for some luck along the way. Nobody should expect hundreds of keepers from an afternoon of street/travel photography, so you may as well slow it down and strive for a few keepers. Personally, after a good day of shooting I’m usually left with a hand full of images that I’m happy about. The rest are reminders to shoot less, and examples of how to improve. Admittedly the number of keepers has gone down through the years, but the standard of my images has improved dramatically and my eye is more critical of potential keepers, plus I shoot less. This is mostly down to Pre Visualization, I know what I’m looking for on the street, I’m just gathering the parts so to say. Pre-Visualizing is understanding the image in your mind before releasing the shutter. The scene in front of you might look one way, but with your imagination, you're able to create something that is not seen, the coming together of your imagination and with a technical know-how to create it, is to visualizing the image. 

Some simple examples of Pre Visualizing :

-You see a red building in front of you, it has large door at the front, you wait patiently for somebody to walk through the door, releasing the shutter at the exact time the person walks out of the door. You waited patiently because you imagined the image with a person stepping out of the door and knew it would add more depth and interest to the composition. You could have taken the original image of the scene in front of you, but instead you created a new scene your eyes didn't see, your imagination did. Pre Visualisation 

-It’s rush hour in the city and people are walking through the streets fast, you see somebody reading a book whilst leaning up against a wall. Everybody else around is moving. Your camera is set at 1/500s which would freeze the people in the shot, you imagine a person standing against a wall reading and motion blurred people around him and so you lowered your speed to something like 1/60s to enable motion blur yet keeping the main subject sharp. You visualized an image that the naked eye cannot see, and your technical ability allowed you to capture it as you imagined it. This is pre-visualization

Those are the most basic examples of visualizing the image, we all do it to some extent. But most really don't think enough about the shot, before raising the camera to start playing with settings and angles. So next time you're out on the street, try to pre-visualize and understand the image you're about to take, ask yourself if you're able to improve upon the scene in front of you. Are you able to photograph it differently to how it's seen to the naked eye, what would that look like and how would you do that? put these kinds of question in your head when you approach a scene and try to complete the image before raising up your camera. Slow it down, shoot less, think more and bring home better images next time you shoot.