How many times have you done this: you see a beautiful scene, you compose it through the camera, and shoot it. The photograph may come out nice, it may not. But when you look at the photo, it just doesn't quite look like you pictured in your mind when you tripped the shutter. How many of us have tried studio or still life projects; just placing things in front of the camera and moving them around until it looked right? It may have turned out nice, it may not have; but it probably didn't quite turn out the way you imagined when you tripped the shutter. What would you say if I told you that I have a way to almost certainly give you better results? What is my secret? I bet you have heard it before. Now when I tell you, don't hit the "back" button on your browser and call me a "loon." Are you ready? The secret is to develop your "inner eye" and use it. Now don't tune me out; I was once a skeptic myself. So how did I discover my inner eye? I can quite honestly say that it was an accident. But before we get into that, let's discuss exactly what the inner eye is. As I stated earlier, most people look at what they are going to shoot and manipulate the object or move themselves until the composition and lighting are to their satisfaction. In other words (as we say in Pennsylvania "Dutch country": 'they fiddle around until it looks right.' When you use your inner eye it's completely different. Rather than moving things around until it suits you, you try to picture the final image in your mind and then make the adjustments to the composition and lighting to match the image in your mind. More often than not, this method produces a stonger image that using the 'fiddle around' method because you have a solid goal to strive for. I am not saying that you should totally abandon the 'fiddle around' method, because under certain circumstances it can be helpful. But using you inner eye in the right circumstances will give you a creative edge that could mean the difference between a so-so photo and an exceptional one. What are the right circumstances? You are the only person that can determine that for yourself. I can visualize still-lifes and studio work better than anything else; probably because the subjects are small and easily handled, and I have total control of the lighting. I have a harder time visualizing things that are on a larger scale such as building or scenics. I sometimes find that 'fiddling around' will let me see options I didn't know existed. You will probably be different. So how do you go about aquiring your inner eye? You must practice and learn it until it is second nature; just like you learned f-stops and shutter speeds and how to use the combination to get the results you desired. To develop this skill, try to work backwards. Look through magazines and find pictures that you like. Take these pictures and try to to figure out how the picture was taken. How many lights were used? Where was the main light? Was a fill light used? What was the lighting ratio? Why is this composition so appealing? What backdrop or background did they use, and why did they use it? Did they purposely use a small or large depth of field? What was the position of the camera in relationship to the subject? Was the exposure of the background different than that of the subject? Try to picture the setup in your mind. If it helps, try to sketch an overhead view of the setup. In time, visualizing setups in your mind will become quite easy. Here's a tip: when visualizing setups that have people, look at the eyes. Unless they have been retouched, the eyes will reflect all the light sources that are in front of them. This should help you place those light sources. Try to visualize every photograph that you like. Once you have mastered this, it will be very easy to turn it around to set up shots you see in your mind's eye. This is exactly how I developed my visualization techniques. When I first started to take photography seriously, I started a scrapbook of pictures that I liked (I continue this practice today). With those pictures, I would sketch the setups of the photograph on paper. After awhile I could "see" the setup without having to put in on paper (my wife still complains that she will never again enjoy magazine covers because now all the notices are the reflections in the model's eyes). Through this process I was learning lighting and composition skills, but I never realized that it was conditioning my mind's inner eye. One day I was paging through a magazine and spotted a nice photo of a strawberry. It was placed on a table and filled the entire frame. It was rear-lighted from behind and to the right. The lighting was nice, but the composition was lacking. I thought about the photo for awhile, when a vision came into my mind. I saw the same strawberry placed on a spood full of whipped cream against a different background. After I thought for awhile, the composition and lighting techniques also came to mind. I could actually see the setup in my mind. I went home and tried it. When I got my slides back it was like deja vu. The images on my slides where exactly what I had pictured in my mind's eye. And no doubt about it; if I had not visualized this photo, I would not have gotten it. The "fiddling around" method would have been a disaster and waste of time. I hope that his will inspire you to try to visualize setups in your mind. If you don't develop your inner eye, at the very least you will learn more about lighting and composition.
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