I slot into the realms of the accidental photographer more often than not these days, looking for inspiration and the subject matter that will quench that yearning for the next mind-blowing visual. As a practising professional back in the day, I felt more of a technician than a creative. The visual subject and final image was most often done (and probably still is) by a team of agency and marketing specialists who together arrive at a visual that delivers the required message with supporting copy. Against this layout, your job as photographer was to project manage, orchestrate if you will, a production that brought all the elements together to transfer this visualisation from sketch to reality, set up in front of the camera, lit and styled for effect – technical. The ‘hard work’ was already done, you simply followed direction from the layout and the art director or creative director.

These days it’s all on me, so I am faced all the time with the nagging question of what to shoot?

Narrow angle on a railway bridge with rock and water.

Previsualising an image is an important part of preparation when picking up your camera. It is probably the one thing we do least because it is the most difficult aspect of readying yourself for that winning shot – you know, the one you thought you were poised to take.


A look out the window or at whatever inspired you to dust off your camera in the first place should trigger a series of decisions. They include looking at the situation you find yourself in, and then assessing what you feel like achieving visually, and why. It is the first and most important part of the process. It affects every other decision you make, from selecting your gear, to where, when and how you are going to find or produce your image.

A look beyond the practical aspects of getting the shot requires getting in touch with your inner self, your id and ego, and whatever else you may find clanging around inside you. Ultimately, this focuses your endeavours, sets up a challenge, and hones your mind, your eye and your view, and here you can be as strict or as lenient on yourself as you like.

Previsualisation as a process is about covering as many of the bases before you get out into the wild beyond. It ensures you equip yourself both mentally and physically with the ‘right stuff’, and you don’t land up discovering you have left out an all-important lens, filter or flash. We are assuming here you have moved beyond using a point-and-shoot, or your cell phone camera, although the process still applies; get to grips with what it is you want to do photographically. The more often you run through the checklist the better at it you will become, and the fewer outings will end in disappointment.

Wide angle on a railway bridge showing rocks and old textured columns

Good imagery is planned; it rarely just falls into your lap or onto your camera’s memory stick. Images are made up of subjects and objects, the subject being your primary concern and the object being the supporting act, the cast, the elements that are going to make meaning. Your subject is always the focal point. How you put these together will depend on what you are looking at and whether they can be placed and juxtaposed to give you your winner. Composition is, of course, another topic all on its own.

The next process of image making is a revolving process, and depends on the challenges offered by the actual setting. It also considers the challenge you set yourself in the first place.

Still looking for an angle in this railway bridge

So think before you shoot, have a process (checklist) and repeat the process every time you frame up an image. Ask yourself – why am I taking the shot, what do I want to achieve. Look around – find the best angle and then look for the next-best angle and the next. Be honest and be realistic about your expectations, possibly stick to one subject and place for a while. If you formulate a solid process before during and after your session, you will eventually get the hang of it and it will pay off in frame upon frame of solid imaging.

Finally, as long as you take the shot yourself, trying to emulate existing images is a great way to start getting your head into gear. Make a portfolio of shots you love, try and replicate them and continue to refine your method and develop your own style. Above all, keep educating yourself

Emphasis on the rail tracks of the railway bridge with textured steel tracks.