Last week’s post about Yosemite’s natural firefall got me thinking about the late, great adventure and landscape photographer Galen Rowell. A topic that he wrote about often was the importance of pre-visualization in photography. That is to say, as a photographer, it is important to “pre-visualize the way the image will look on film before you take the photograph, instead of merely taking a snapshot with the naïve expectation that the outcome will be like you see.” As I was learning the craft of photography, I always took this teaching to heart. But is the idea of pre-visualation as important today as it once was? Rowell was emphasizing the importance of understanding how each specific film type captures light and is processed into the resulting photograph. Very few of us still shoot with film, so does the same concept hold true in the digital age?
As anyone who has learned photography with a digital camera can attest, being able to see the results of your work instantly in the field greatly accelerates the learning process. In other words, if you get the settings wrong when capturing an image, in most cases you can review the image, correct for any mistakes, and shoot again. The necessity of understanding how the camera sensor will capture the subject is diminished. Of course, this may not hold true with certain types of action or event photography, as you might miss that critical moment. But even with wildlife, I often take a few sample shots and review them to make sure my settings are in the ballpark of correctness.
The need for this type of pre-visualization falls apart even more when moving from DSLR to mirrorless photography. Mirrorless cameras have an electronic viewfinder, allowing the photographer to see a “live” view of exactly what the camera’s sensor sees. Here the photographer knows exactly what the image will look like before ever pressing the shutter.
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