Visualize the Image-Tips and Visualization Techniques

Three Orbs in the Sand, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Since it’s come up several times in the last week, I thought I would post about visualization and photography.

Many photographers are what I like to call “reactionary” photographers-they shoot what’s in front of them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing-if you are a photojournalist, for example, it can actually be a plus (You would not want a photojournalist to, for example, stage an event just for the photographs. That would be, how shall I put it, wrong on oh so many levels.) For the rest of us though, especially those of us living in the “fine art” corners of the universe, visualization is a great thing.

But, how do I visualize something that’s not there?

Take something you know already, and turn it on it’s ear. For example, I watch a lot of Top Gear and you all know about my crush on Lord Stig. So, imagine the Stig going to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, the gas station (actually, he’s already been there but, like you get the idea.) Since he needs a bit of help using mechanical things (other than, perhaps the obvious, cars) he’d probably get stuck in a shopping cart. Imagine the Stig stuck in a shopping cart. Wouldn’t that be funny? Ok, now turn it again. Imagine a self portrait where you stick yourself in a shopping car. Put a supermodel in a shopping cart. Put a grandmother in there. See how this is working? It’s not that hard to picture an old lady stuffed into a shopping cart is it? (As a matter of practice, it would be very wise to ask first before stuffing Granny into the shopping cart but, like, you get the idea we’re going for here.)

You can also try this technique using song lyrics, scenes from a play, paintings, anything else that just pops into your head. (Imagine some Bob Dylan tunes visualized, wouldn’t that be cool? Or make your own opera, how fun would that be?)

If it helps, deconstruct the image into basic shapes.

When you practice visualization, you often find that you have to draw things out using pencil and paper. You don’t have to be Rembrandt to do this, simple shapes, lines, and curves will suffice here. The trick is to deconstruct what you see into simple shapes, put them down on paper, and “play with” the shapes on paper before you move into the real world. If you saw my drawings, they would not make sense to you. Again, here it does not matter. They only have to make sense to *me* since I’m the one implementing them, right? The trick is, think a lot, start simple, add details later.

But what if my pictures never match what I have in my head?

Oh, now this is a big one. (I hope you’re sitting down.) It doesn’t matter. There, I said it, now allow me to explain. It doesn’t matter if your results end up matching exactly what you have in your head. You’ll get better results if you practice visualization techniques regardless of the outcome. And, more to the point, as you continue to practice visualization techniques, you’ll find that you can visualize more accurately what you know your camera can render. Likewise, you’ll be able to shoot closer to what’s in your head. The point I’m trying to make here is that, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at visualization. It’s like anything else, right? Practice makes perfect and all.

Some final tips…

Ok, so you’re convinced that you want to give visualization a try. Here are some tips that might help you along. Try drawing, sketching, doodling more. Learn to just “let your mind go” and see where it takes you. Make visual associations (as we did here with The Stig) and explore new connections. Remember old stories. Think back to when you were a child and you used to play “dress up” or with toys, what did you imagine? What did you pretend you wanted to be? Record your dreams and fantasies. Re-read some of your favorite books, listen to your favorite music, or watch old movies to get ideas. Go to galleries, museums, and look at a lot of other artwork to spur your imagination. All of these things can help you visualize images.

Some of the best photographs in the world are deliberate. The photographer didn’t wait for the universe to align itself in a certain way, instead he (or she) went out and made things happen. I’m sure that you’ll find a new purpose to your work, and your work will have more depth, more soul, more drama, and more intensity if you give visualization a try.

It’s not hard to imagine yourself, your shots, your work, only better. You should give it a try and do please let us know how it works out for you, or share any tips you might have for others looking to get started.

Until next time…


  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    July 1, 2009 / 6:29 pm

    Hello Carol, Thanks for your comment on my blog. Sorry your weather has been too hot this year for the roses. I already told Dan how funny I found comments on his blog about 'a welcome cold front' which would take the weather down to the 80s, because round these parts that's a heatwave! And that's what we have right now. I wonder if you know that last week 'The Stig' was unveiled! Do you want to know who it is?! Let me know and I shall reveal all. You won't be disappointed…

  2. Carol
    July 1, 2009 / 10:29 pm

    Hi Postcards!

    Thanks to modern technology (*cough* bit torrent *cough*) I was able to see who the Stig was under that helmet. Shame about those ducks though.

    And, yes, we've been having 105 with LOWS near 80 (it gets down to 79 at like 3 in the morning.) A bit too hot for anything really, this climate is.

  3. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    July 2, 2009 / 7:35 am

    Come live in England, you will never have such problems again! But you might want to avoid southern Spain. A man in Córdoba told me that in 2003 they had temperatures of 43C (109F) until 3 or 4am each night, then it cooled down to a shady 37C (98.6F) until the sun got up, and in the heat of the day the digital clock in the city showed temperatures of 56C (132.8F). I hope you weren't disappointed with the Stig!

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