Ansel Adams talked about previsualization in photography, right down to the point of knowing what size he would likely print the image as he was making it. That’s because he knew that certain elements were best viewed larger or smaller. Fine detail was seen better when printed large, while simple graphic elements could work printed smaller and still be seen/understood.
I have used this idea for a long time, when deciding what size to print an image. When I would lay out my 35mm slides on a light table, you could instantly tell which pictures would work smaller, as you could "read" the image pretty well with the naked eye. But the images that needed to be viewed with a loupe to see more were ones that usually ended up printed larger, for the detail to show up effectively. This is one sort of previsualization and it makes sense to me. It’s something that many photographers overlook, when deciding what size to print an image. While not a hard/fast rule, it does make sense that certain pictures shouldn’t go smaller than a certain size to be effective.
Another type of pre-visualization is thinking about what you might do to the image after capture. And by that I mean what sort of treatment, if any, will you give it? We have at our fingertips all sorts of processes that can take a picture to another level - painterly, illustrative, etc. What we choose to use should be based on what we want the picture to express. I wouldn’t, for example, want to do a solarized effect as I don’t think it would express anything close to what I wanted! That said, playing around can be great fun, too.
When I was photographing this Buffalo Bill "look-alike" in Montana a few years back, I knew instinctively that it was not going to remain a color picture. The bright colors were distracting me from the old-time, or timeless mood that I wanted to express. So while composing, and exposing, I was thinking in terms of monochrome. I knew that the tonal contrast was there, because I have learned to pre-visualize for black and white.
In my classes, workshops and in camera club judging, I’ve seen many a "flat" black and white image that was converted from a color picture that didn’t have enough variation in tonal contrast - i.e., the color hues were too close in tonal value when converted. With the developed ability of what sort of contrast is needed for proper rendering of a monochrome, and developing your skill at converting, you can get great results, however.
I started with a B&W conversion, then continued by toning it with a sepia hue, and then added a Sketch light pencil from Topaz’s Simplify. The processed image (above) is more timeless, the feeling that I wanted to capture. I can’t bring back Buffalo Bill himself, but I can create the feeling of an old-time picture of him, thanks to software techniques! Here’s what I started with as a color capture, for reference:
Editor's notes: Would you like to give your outdoor photography a big boost? Then join Brenda Tharp in one of her Internet courses - Creating Visual Impact and Travel Photography: Capturing a Sense of Place - through the BetterPhoto.com online school of digital photography.