Evolution of an image

How did you take that photograph? That is a question I am often asked.

Fellow photographers usually want to know about the technical aspects, such as shutter speed and f-stop or about neutral density filters that I used.

But producing a nice image is much more than the technical aspects of photography. Sure, exposure and filters are important, but to me there are many more non-technical considerations to think about. I love it when someone really wants to know how an image has evolved.

Whenever I arrive at a potential spot for a photograph, I rarely reach for the camera. Instead, I sit down on a rock or on the ground and take in the scene, listening to the sounds around me and closely looking at the visual elements. I think this is one of the most important aspects of photography; looking, listening and suppressing the urge to get the camera out.

In the case of my Lakeside image, I spent the morning walking around the area, watching the boats and passenger ferry, and watching the numerous birds landing on the rocks and beach.

Resisting the temptation to get the camera out leads to much more appreciation of the area and of the elements that might be important when I do finally get to work with the camera. I call this the contemplation phase of the evolution of an image. Letting the senses see, hear and sometimes taste the landscape is such an important part of landscape photography.

Lakeside is a village at the south end of Lake Windermere. The village, in the county of Cumbria, was established as a steamer pier for services along the 10-mile lake. It is an important area for wildlife, tourism, sailing and other water sports.

As the contemplation phase progresses, I start to get an idea in my mind about what the image is going to communicate. Is there a story to be told? Or do I want to stimulate my viewer, to encourage them to think deeply about the image? This is the conceptualisation phase. This is where the concept of the image starts to become clearer in my own mind.

And then comes the visualisation phase, which is the stage where I can ‘see’ the final image in my mind. At this point, I start to carefully visualise the elements of the picture and how they might work together to capture the mood, the atmosphere and the concept I have in mind. Now it is time to reach for the camera!

The production phase is about the technical aspects. Shutter speed, depth of field, aperture settings, filters and neutral density are things that need to be considered, in relation to the concept and visual image I have in mind. These need to work together to produce the picture that I want.

Capturing the image, usually on film, is of course only the first part of the production phase. To get the final photograph the way that I want it usually means making some alterations to the film processing time, and it often involves making tweaks to the scanned negatives to bring out tone and dynamic range.

So, whenever someone asks me ‘how did you take that photograph?’ I usually hesitate before launching into a summary of the evolution of an image: contemplation, conceptualisation, visualisation, and production. Or, sometimes I simply say, ‘I took the shot at 1/125s at f-8!’

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