Brooks Jensen, editor of LensWork Publishing has recently had a great series of podcasts from his current photography trip to Japan and they all warrant a listen. One in particular really gave me pause to think and look at how I shoot. Jensen discusses the idea that when we are in the field with our camera, we are not making art. Art making happens once we get back home during post-production, printing, and seeing how the images fit in a series. When we're in the field shooting, we should think about it as gathering the raw materials to make our art with at a later time, i.e. 'chopping wood'.
The more I thought about this, the more it makes sense. While I still think we should be looking through the lens with a certain amount of pre-visualization towards a finished piece, I believe it's possible that spending too much time with this can be counterproductive. As I keep mentioning, being in the flow and really Seeing your subject is crucial to creating a worthwhile image. If we spend too much time worrying about what we're going to do later, it will take away from being in the now.
Now i'm not saying you should shoot recklessly without forethought. Not much to learn by doing that. Take time to purposefully adjust your aperture and exposure and to change the framing. Look at your subject from different angles. Gather as much raw material as you can so that when it's time to get down to the business of creating art, you've got lots of arrows in your quiver.
On a recent trip to Yellowstone with my Brother, I didn't have time to do a whole lot of pre-visualizing while we were hiking. He's not a photographer and I didn't want to slow things to a crawl as I worked every shot for 10 minutes. I shot rapidly, but with purpose. Because I didn't spend too much time thinking about the end result, I feel that I ended up with a lot more quality images to work with back at home when I could analyze them more objectively.
Looking at the two images below, the top one is the original shot I took of a small geyser. I think if I had thought about it too much, I might have moved on as it initially didn't look too interesting to me. I wasn't able to pre-visualize the bottom image which is what I ended up with after some quick work in Lightroom. By simply shooting purposefully with an open mind, I was able to end up with an image I was happy with, one I might not have otherwise captured.