On Cultivating Vision

By Liz Ness on April 22, 2019

My vision for the following was always in black and white with reflections of light on a calm river, streaks of lights from cars, and starry bokeh as a way to accent the night. It included concepts of calm, quiet, and distance, too. But, it took me quite a few tries to frame this image in a way that matched my vision for it. I was really cold and it was hard to steady my camera. In retrospect, I should have brought the tripod—especially, for creating a night image. (I used a fence for bracing.) Plus, there was a busy street behind me and a couple of restaurants buzzing with activity nearby. The context was anything but calm and quiet. Still, I loved the challenge and I was compelled to try.

As I share this story, I find myself coming back to this concept of vision and what I think about it as an outsider looking in. To me it's the imagined image, the hoped-for goal, the North Star. And yet, I'm not sure how you develop vision as a matter of course—even though I can tell you how it feels for me and what I do to cultivate my vision. Plus, I'm pretty sure the way I go about it has more to do with who I am than any right way to do it.

I think about vision a lot. Which is probably why one of my favorite photographer-bloggers is David duChemin a smart, thoughtful, and often humorous writer who is a photographer with mad skills. Plus, he's kind (which is a big deal in my book). Oh, he can teach, too—so I guess you could say he's got a lot going on there. Anyway, he writes about vision often, inspiring my curiosity.

When I think about cultivating my own vision, I tend to study a variety of genres and think about what compels me the most about them.  One of my Pintrest Boards has a bunch that I've collected to remind and inspire myself. Likewise, I study my own photographs; the new stuff and the old. As I study these, I consider (and reconsider) which photographs I like most, noting qualities and ranking them in order of most favorite to least favorite. My choices about what I like and what I'd like to communicate guide my decisions about which techniques to learn, practice, and use to create the next photo I imagine, and the next, and the next. And, it requires a lot of takes and retakes. David duChemin calls this process sketching—a word that resonates with me.

As I practice or sketch, I make additional adjustments because things I notice lead to insight and questions I'm compelled to explore. In other words, developing my vision is really an exercise in observation, reflection, hypothesis forming, testing and on through the cycle again and again.

At the same time, I am aware that this cycle is about more than developing my vision. It is an irresistible path and taking it feels inevitable and right for who I am: A highly analytical type that tests everything. Which is why I keep wondering if the way to develop vision is as unique from person to person as the vision itself.

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