As I have spent the last few days packing my gear for a two week trek through the mountains of South West China, I have been thinking a great deal about visualisation and pre-planning images. Some of the ground we will travel over in the coming weeks is new to us, while some other areas we have visited often. In the latter I can visualise certain images in my mind with the spring Rhododendrons in full bloom.
But, for the other areas, I am left with a blank canvas, my brain only stimulated by a few images I have seen online from some Chinese photographers. I am not by nature an icon-chaser, but one cannot resist the allure of checking out how a new area looks before you get there.
Going in cold is great from a creative point of view, my mind is uncluttered of preconceptions, and I can react honestly to the visual stimuli we will undoubtedly experience.
But, how can one prepare for these trips, to maximise the potential and hopefully create some images that capture the essence of the experience to share with others?
The answer, simply, is along with my gear in my backpack, I need to have my Creative Toolbox well packed too. The former, is my gear, my tools, the bits and pieces I need to Harvest Light, to harness the available light and get it home. That is where the process starts.
As we’ll be hiking most of the time, I had to keep it light, but it still represents a high percentage of all my camera gear.
The second bag, the toolbox is physically weightless, but symbolically massive. My Creative Toolbox is the collection of all my techniques, tips, tricks and knowledge that I carry around with me. BY this stage, it is mostly subconscious, I am not physically aware of it while I am shooting, but it is there – and what it allows me to do is Visualise Possibilities when I am confronted with a graphically or emotionally stimulating scene that I want to photograph.
Things like Bracketing, Focus-Stacking, Hyperfocal Distances, Fill-Light with Flash, ND Filters to name a few, are all things that allow for Creative Expression and harnessing of Dynamic Range. I also know of how I can deal with these images in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop, again, aware of the possibilities of what I can do with Harvested Light when I get it home.
Before setting off tonight, it has been good for me to just revisit some of these techniques – refreshing my memory on how to do some of these things, reacquainting myself with my camera to be sure I know my around in the dark – simple things that increase the chances of success.
Failure to take meaningful images in the natural world is often preventable with some foresight – the same reason professional sports-people practice all the time. I can’t turn up on match day not having looked at my camera in the last 6 months.
Having a well-stocked Creative Toolbox is the surest way to get the maximum fulfilment from any photography trip.
A quick image taken from my office window to check the backup body. All ready to go.