Photography – Imagined Or Discovered?

When I’m out with camera, my general approach is to look for things I find beautiful, then try to capture them in a way that will adequately convey that beauty to others.

My photography is about discovering what’s already there, removing the extraneous from the frame, and making a permanent record of it, for myself, and to share.

But I know others take the almost complete opposite approach.

They already have in their mind what they want to shoot, and how they want it to look, then seek out the compositions that will fit, and apply the specific processing that will lead to that desired final image.

Visualising the photograph before you’ve even found it, let alone captured it, is their first step.

Which I can understand for something like a commissioned portrait, where someone comes to you with a preconceived notion of how they want the final photos of themselves to look. 

But I struggle to translate this ethos when simply wandering around with a camera in search of compositions. 

Photography after all is an art form where we have to work with what we have before us.

With something like poetry or painting or music we start with absolutely nothing, and can create anything.

With photos, you have to use the physical objects and scene in front of you, and, as some put it, all you can really change is where you stand and when you release the shutter. 

That’s where the art lies, for me.

It’s finding this undiscovered beauty that I find most exciting, rather than making something beautiful myself from scratch, as with the aforementioned art forms above. 

How about you, which end of the spectrum are you nearest? Do you visualise the image first then seek it out, or capture what you discover along the way?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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23 thoughts on “Photography – Imagined Or Discovered?”

  1. Most of my pictures are what I find. Often I have a sense of what I’m looking for. Sometimes I set out to create a specific image (albeit usually ‘in studio’ as it were). Every now and then I snatch victory from the jaws of death.

    1. Yeh I think the only “studio” photos I ever make are of cameras themselves, to feature in a blog post about them. I like to wander and find, like you.

      Did you look into older Sony bridge cameras at all, or Lumix, to replace your Nikon?

      1. Right now I’m seriously considering a Sony HX350. After years of the Nikon being my “sure thing” camera, it’s sad the way it continually screws up now.

  2. I am a wanderer, a camera in hand, always casually looking for what’s waiting to be found. On the other hand, I have a friend, a professional, who’s a planner. He wanders around, seeing things as they could be under specific conditions. He takes notes of where/when/how and he waits for the right conditions to occur. Whereas I may go out in a snow storm looking for photographs, my friend knows exactly where he’ll be.

    1. Yeh it’s this latter example I can’t quite understand. It’s too planned, too deliberate. I know some people who photograph in the streets do this, find a certain place then wait for the ideal conditions and the right person/people to walk into the frame. They might invest hours, even days into one or two shots. For me it feels photography should be more spontaneous and natural than this, like stumbling across what’s already there. Plus I love walking, so don’t like the idea of hanging around waiting in the same place for ages!

  3. I think I do a mix between the two styles… I went to an RHS garden recently with two ideas in mind for shots I wanted, but the rest of the roll was definitely shots of things I found along the way. Some worked, some didn’t.
    Typically, neither of the shots I had decided on beforehand came out, but some of the ones I spotted as I was wandering along came out rather nicely.

    1. Thanks Mads, that’s usually the way! Any time I have a preconception of what and how I might want to shoot, it ends up rubbish and something I stumbled upon turns out far more interesting.

  4. Ahh the good old “Hunting vs Fishing” debate.. 🙂 In my case Dan, I do like to wander about and not know what will come next, however I have to say, when I find a certain location and something is missing there for me, a detail, a human element, something than I feel I need to wait, be patient until I get that missing piece into my frame.
    I have to mention the myth of a “decisive shot” by the great Cartier-Bresson which wasn’t actually just one shot that he took… he used to stay in one place for a long time and take multiple exposures
    until he was satisfied and then pick the best one after developing. The Magnum Contact sheets book is an incredible insight for that.

    1. Yeh I get how that works with street photography, it’s very rarely a spontaneous lucky shot, but the scene was already found, and then the photographer just waits for the right “actors” to step on to the stage.

      That book is on my wish list! But I’ve seen extracts and how very famous shots were actually the one chosen from a dozen very similar shots that didn’t work. Encouraging for all of us!

      1. Absolutely but in any case it’s all relative and depends what you’re doing (project, photo shoot or simply enjoying the light and the moment) very often it’s the latter for me.

  5. I also mostly react to the situations and scenes in front of me… my “planning” is restricted to the kind of place I go. Obviously if I go to a community garden I’ll have a lens that takes good pictures of flowers. If I take a day off with my family at the beach, something that can take both portraits and landscapes will have to be on the camera (or in the bag).
    The most thrilling thing in photography to me is travels, where I go to a new place not knowing what I will see next.

      1. It depends… if I’m traveling to a new city, I’ll try to find out what the more beautiful points are and take a picture of those… not necessarily architectural shots, more like tourist shots… if I’m just walking in a park, I’ll look for flowers and watch how the light is falling on the nature that is present there.

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