‘Boston Ivy’, Brathay Church, Clappersgate, Cumbria
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40mm f/4 L USM @ 28mm, 1/2 sec @ f/16, ISO 50
LEE Polariser filter.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop..

“Visualisation is all about seeing like a camera sees.”


Ansel Adams popularized the idea of visualisation, the process by which we are able to imagine the appearance of the final print in our mind’s eye while observing the scene at the location. Visualisation is all about seeing like a camera sees and it vastly improves our chances of creating compelling images. There are two important differences between the world captured through the camera lens and that viewed through our human eyes. Firstly, the camera distils our three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional image. We can replicate this difference by closing one eye when studying the scene and eliminating our binocular vision. Secondly, the camera encloses the subject in a square or rectangular frame and excludes distracting outside elements.

To aid visualisation I sometimes use a ‘viewfinder’, a piece of black plastic card with a rectangular hole. It can be held at varying distances from the eye while one views the subject through the hole and it greatly aids the mental framing of the image. I find the process of using a plastic viewfinder more appealing than stalking the scene while looking through the camera viewfinder because it’s much lighter. Using the viewfinder also formally separates the process of visualisation from image capture and ensures that I can concentrate my thoughts creatively without any distraction or temptation to start clicking away as I’m stalking the scene.

I made this image of the glorious ruddy Woodbine covering the dirty old rustic stone walls of Brathay Church on a beautiful day in mid-October. Capturing the scene was an exercise in composition and visualisation. There was a beautiful synergy and wonderful textural contrast between the plant and the building. I used my plastic viewfinder to experiment with various compositions and this one was the obvious choice. Compositional framing and exclusion becomes more specific in extracted images like this one. With smaller scenes we are excluding specific details rather than the vast areas excluded when rendering a vista, framing is therefore often more critical.

Apart from the obvious stunning autumn colour, I was particularly attracted to the bold diagonal formed by the edge of the creeper, and the way the branches were enveloping the top of the stone archway as though exerting natures authority. When I arrived, the steps were bare so I added some leaves to provide some red accents in the lower half of the image and help maintain balance. Cropping out the steps would have simplified the composition, but they aid the visual path back into the image once the viewers attention has fallen to the lower edge. The door regains our attention and is allowed a second chance to emphasise it’s mystery, blocking a hidden world from view.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.