Photographic Vision

· 11.June.2015

Vision is one of the most important tools available to us as photographers, whether we’re using a medium format system, our Fujis or even an iPhone.

“Photographers run the risk of spending more time thinking about gear than using it to create great images. The result is a glut of photographs that are technically perfect, but lacking in emotion, depth, symbolism and passion.” – David duChemin

Vision is rarely discussed in photographic publications, yet without developing our vision, we will in all likelihood just create ‘ordinary’ photographs.  They may be the most technically perfect photographs possible, but they will still be ordinary photographs. With vision however, our photographs can go beyond the ordinary.  They can become the conveyors of ideas. This is where real vision can be found.

So, what is vision?

Vision is the ability to see the invisible or what the human eye can’t see. It is also something that is unique to you as the artist, something that you see in your ‘mind’s eye’ or just ‘feel’ and that you are compelled to communicate through your images.

Vision is intentional. It is not haphazard or left to chance. It is planned in our mind and executed in a way, which delivers the result we intended.

Developing our vision takes effort and can be a challenging process. However, the rewards are significant. Your vision is at least as important as creating the actual image. It is also important to realize that vision is a journey, rather than a destination, as our vision will change over time.


Connemara Pony


Take the Connemara Pony image above, as an example. I actually went out that day to shoot some landscapes and also the wild ponies around Connemara, in the West of Ireland. As it was raining heavily, the idea of a close up of the face of one of these wonderful horses, to illustrate their wonderful personalities, was what I was trying to achieve. I knew that my Fuji XT-1 and the 56mm lens, shot at f1.2, would give me the look I was after. It was a case of having a clear vision of what I wanted to show and then using the right tools to capture it.

My vision comes through inspiration. Inspiration can be through many different influences. It can be a wonderful piece of music, through art, whether paintings, sculptures or other photographers, books or just the natural world around us.

Inspiration when combined with vision leads to creativity. But, remember that our vision isn’t a static thing and will evolve over time and so our creative expression of our vision will also change.

Also realize that all the great artists have spent many years studying the work of other artists, so you should be doing the same. It’s not a case of copying what they do, but rather using their work and creativity as your inspiration.


Applying our Vision

“I don’t photograph the world as it is. I photograph the world as I would like it to be.” – Monte Zucker

When it actually comes to applying our vision, I see it as part of the complete creative process. So what do I mean by this?

If we consider my landscape photography for a moment, I want to create what I actually ‘felt’ whilst I was at the location. This is about communicating the experience of being on a rugged mountainside or on a wild and windswept beach.


Portstewart Strand


I had been planning to capture the image above for some time. I knew what I wanted to express in the image, a sense of stillness and solitude. This was actually an 11 minute exposure, which I needed, to get the detail in the sky and the ocean to have that ethereal feel that only very long exposures provide.  Again, this was my vision or interpretation of this particular place, on  Northern Ireland’s Atlantic coast.

When I’m out photographing the landscape, sometimes people will come up to me to ask what I’m photographing. When I show them, they often are amazed at what I see and how I’ve interpreted the scene in front of me. This is the outworking of my own vision for the wonderful landscapes we are surrounded by around the British Isles. It’s just the same for my travel photography and equine portraits.

What the camera actually captures is often a poor reflection of our memory of the scene. The technical limitations, of even the best cameras, means that I will almost always ‘work’ on the image in post production. This will typically be to effectively dodge and burn specific areas of the image and make overall changes to contrast and exposure.

I don’t spend a lot of time trying to correct what I would consider to have been a poor image in the first place, but more trying to enhance something which reflects the location and what I felt when I was there. For example, was it cold and wet, was it windy and bleak, was it a lovely warm summer’s day? Was I happy or sad, was I inspired and awed at the scene in front of me or was there just a sense of tranquility?


Connemara Beach


Developing your vision takes time and effort, a real commitment to your art, but the rewards for taking the time will be significant in the development of your photography. No one can provide your vision for you, so remember that vision is inspiration made real and it occurs when you go beyond the technical to the artistic!