Visualization by Ansel Adams

Winter Clouds with Sun Stripe

One of the hallmarks of landscape photography is learning to imagine what your photo of the scene will look like as a printed picture. This process is called "visualization," a term coined by Ansel Adams. I recently discovered a video that features Adams talking specifically about this technique. You can watch it here:

Ansel Adams on Visualization 

Another technique that Adams taught in his workshops (and that I learned and use) is a viewing frame or "cut-out". This is a piece of cardboard, preferably white or black (you can make one from scrap mat board), with a hole that is the same proportions as your camera sensor or film. You hold this card and look through the hole to find and frame your picture. The cardboard border isolates part of the scene from the rest of its surroundings so you can better "visualize" how the subject you chose will look as a picture.

The closer to your face you hold the card, the shorter the lens (or zoom setting); the farther you extend your arm, the longer the lens (or zoom). In addition, it helps to close one eye when looking through the hole. This removes our three-dimensional vision of the scene and helps us see it as our camera will record it (in two dimensions).

Landscape photographer and master printer Charles Cramer was interviewed about how he uses the "cut-out" card. You can watch the video here.

How to Use a Viewing Frame for Landscape Photography

If you are using a digital (or 35mm film) SLR camera, cut a piece of cardboard 5x7 inches on the outside. Then make a 2x3 inch hole in the center for your viewing frame. If you are using a compact digital camera (or a Four Thirds camera), use the same 5x7 piece of card, but cut your hole to be 3x4 inches. These different sizes reflect the different proportions of the sensors in SLR vs. compact digital cameras.