Wildlife Week: Pre-visualize

April 24, 2010

Photo Tips, Wildlife

Luna Moth, Chatham County, NC

[Editors Note: This week we are having a Wildlife Photography Tip every day here on DPE. Rick is also doing a tip a day on People photography over on his personal blog, make sure to check it out.]

You may have noticed that when referring to the process of photographing something I use the verb “make” and not “take.” The use of the word “make” on my part is VERY deliberate. To me, “making” an image requires fore-thought, planing and skill. Yes we all get lucky from time to time and “take” a great image without much thought, but in order to consistently create great images you have to be disciplined, prepare, plan and pre-visualize.

Pre-visualization is a simple and effective technique that can help in providing direction and focus to your photography, whether that is wildlife, portrait, lifestyle or whatever other type of photography you are into.

All of us, wildlife photographers, have those destinations we dream about going to, whether it is Africa, Madagascar, Costa Rica, Yellowstone, Alaska, or wherever. Naturally we want to make the best of the time we are there, and be productive and effective at making pictures. This is were pre-visualization can help.

Pre-visualization is nothing more than creating, ahead of time, in your minds eye the images you want to create. In other words creating a mental list of those images that for you will constitute a successful shoot. This will provide you with focus and purpose when at your destination and hopefully ensures that your time is spent as efficiently as possible.

Let me give you an example using the image above. I had a very concrete idea of what I was looking to shoot, and in this case the location was not so much a factor. I have been fascinated by Luna moths since I first laid my eyes on one when I was about 12 years old at summer camp in New Hampshire. I learned about their behavior, their life cycles, their preferred foods (they only eat while in their caterpillar stage, as the moths do not have any functioning mouth parts), etc. Typically, Luna moths have 2 or 3 generations in a year, with one of those generations overwinter in their protective cocoons. I had noticed that those generations that overwinter had much more vibrant colors than those that only lived through the summer; and that in some cases the Luna moths around my home had a very vibrant purple band around the bottom edges of their wings, a vibrant purple that matched almost exactly the color of the blooming Redbud trees that are so prevalent around my home.

With that information I then pre-visualized this image of an overwintering Luna moth with the purple color resting on a Redbud branch. Without going into too much detail, I had to get very lucky to find a newly emerged Luna moth with the right colors during the brief period of time in the spring when the Redbud are blooming (the flowers last approximately 3 weeks). With this pre-visualization in my head I worked hard to find the right Luna at the right time for 3 consecutive springs. One year I got exceptionally lucky and got the image I had in my head all that time.

Where was this image taken? In my front yard! The only reason I was able to get this image was because I was prepared, I had studied this two species (Luna moth and Redbud tree), and pre-visualized the image I wanted to capture. This pre-visualization helped me persevere for more than 3 years to get the image I was looking for.

Here is another example. Having observed Carolina Chickadees for many years I had noticed that they appear to be very playful. So I set my mind to try and capture that playfulness. I had also noticed that when trying to perch on a thin, smooth branch they had a propensity to hanging upside down. I then proceeded to visualize this image of a chickadee hanging from a small flowering branch. I created a setup on one of my bird feeders trying to make this image. I captured lots of other great images, of many other bird species, but I kept at it looking to make that one image I had pre-visualized.

IAfter a few days of persistence I was rewarded with the image below:

Carolina Chickadee, Chatham County, NC

In summary, pre-visualization can help you in focusing your efforts, and make sure you make the most out of any shoot. Study your subjects, the location, and environment in order to help you conceive of compelling images.

As I like to say “Luck favors the prepared”

This article brings “Wildlife Week” to a conclusion. I hope you enjoyed these articles and that you got something from them. We would love to hear your thoughts on this series and if you’d like to see more like it. You can share your thoughts with us either by leaving it as a comment to this post, or by clicking on the “Contact Us” link on the header on this page.


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This post was written by:

- who has written 347 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Juan is a wildlife photographer who currently lives in Maine. Juan lives and breathes photography and travels around the country making images, teaching and leading photo workshops. Juan’s favorite destination is Yellowstone in winter.

You can follow Juan on twitter at http://twitter.com/jpons

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