Old lavender branches on wet rocks

Time to return to photography. Today, I would like to narrate a bit on Vision and how the “tools” I use, e.g, the camera, lens, computers, software, light meters, flash or lighting, filters…the whole nine yards, can help obtain what I see in my mind, the “Vision” when I push the shutter release.

Vision is an abstract quality to me…I really can’t define it but it’s there in my mind when I compose; determine the correct aperture and shutter speed combination to achieve the depth of field (DOF) I want; where I place the subject in the viewfinder; do I need to be closer, further away; what shadow or highlight details am I looking for; and a whole host of other details that fly through my mind just before I take the picture.

Vision in my mind is not just the shot. What I described above is what I go through each time I take a photo based on years of experience, knowing what works and what doesn’t. The Vision of Consequence, that long term goal of what you’re trying to achieve, is far more difficult for me. That is the true Vision, the one you strive for, whether for a portfolio, personal or professional gain…it defines you as a photographer; it drives you, expands your skills; you’re constantly learning, observing, thinking outside of the box; experimenting to allow the Vision quest to go forth, to continue, to tell the world who you are.

In my mind, there’s also a correlation between photo vision and life vision. The two are intertwined and if you’re off in one, then, again in my mind, you’re off in the other. Without harmony in one, it is almost impossible to have harmony in the other. It’s back to knowing who you are.

This particular post is a difficult one for me. I’ve never had a photographic vision that’s been clear to me…nothing that drives me photographically above all else. When I think of Vision, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibowitz, Ernst Horst, Edward Westin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Larry Burrows, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Rembrandt, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, and many others, including the old masters and their portraits, come to mind. Pretty heady group to compare yourself against.

As in all things, I have favorite images of those artists I admire and I also realize that not all of their work is critically acclaimed. However, each of these artists have something in common to me…it is their style, use of light, composition, the interplay of shadows and highlights, the stark realism of their subjects. There can be no mistaking the hard lives of the people photographed by Lange; Burrows photography of the Vietnam war was honest in the way he captured his subjects – you felt as if you were personally there with them in the mud, on the helicopters, the after battle scenes; Hine’s photos of life in the tenements was explosive in revealing the harsh conditions children and immigrants lived in; W. Eugene Smith’s dramatic black and white photographs of everyday scenes and so much more work by so many other photographers that aren’t in vogue anymore.

Developing a style, a vision, the photography that is you, takes time. It is an evolution based on many factors, life experience, education, your own set of photographic skills, your approach to the subject, what outcome are you looking for. I will never be the same as the artists above, nor do I wish to be – ever. Their work speaks to me in different ways and has allowed me to be who I am as an artist, a photographer, to refine my personal style in a manner that tells the world “This is Tommy’s work”!

I have three or four distinct shooting styles which I constantly strive to master. For each of these styles, I have a distinct look I’m going for- this is vision of sorts: I see the final image as an abstract in my head from the photograph I just took and then it’s just a matter of working the image until it “pops”. Sometimes the “pop” is not easily achievable – in those cases I put it aside and come back to it later when I’m mentally and emotionally ready. On occasion, I rework images a dozen times before it has that magic look I have been striving for. On these, once I finally hit the “sweet” spot, I leave it alone! Then and only then, am I satisfied.

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