I'm honestly not sure where I am going with this blog now. However, I've mulled it over in the last month, wondering if I have anything to say. Then, a friend asked me in another venue if I would ever be writing on this blog again. And now, a relatively recent commenter wished me well, having just stopped by the find the place closed!
It's possible I do still have some things to say, and it's certain that my life is now more settled than it has been in a while.
So, with no promises that this isn't just another "last post" I find I do have some things to say.
The hard part of taking a picture with a camera is recognizing that there's a picture there at all, and what that picture is. Sometimes the picture is impossible. Sometimes it's impossible with the gear you have. Sometimes you haven't the technical ability to make the picture (in that third case go practice some more - none of this stuff is hard, go learn it)
When I say something is a photograph, what I mean is that it's the right picture. I mean that standing two feet to the left, pressing the button a minute later, and so on, would have been inferior choices. I mean that the choice to drag the shutter or put the strobe there or to render it in highly saturated color was a good choice. Another choice would have given a lesser result. Some people would say snapshot, but I don't have a word I like. I just say not a photograph.
Recognizing that there's a picture is the the key, and recognizing what the picture is is the lock. Put them together, take the picture. This is the act of photography. Street photography, really, is about recognizing and shooting in a moment. Landscape can be about refining the recognition and searching for the photograph over many exposures, years of trying. Landscapes hold pretty still, so you have that luxury. A portrait might be something you search for over hours, or over several sessions over days. It might also happen in a moment.
So, really, pre-visualization is just one path of many. A pre-visualized photo is generally one where you've looked, you've seen, and you've imagined the final print in some detail. It's the opposite of street photography, but it perhaps most clearly lays out the important acts of recognizing that there is a photo, and then recognizing what that photo is.
You can argue, and I have, that sometimes the recognition of the photograph occurs in post, at the contact sheet or at the computer. That's OK too.
Far too many people spend too long mucking about with technical details. These are minor and easy. Stop it. Far too many people don't look for a photograph in anything. Or rather, they don't look for their own photograph, they look for someone else's. They try to duplicate Ansel Adams. They try to follow the strobist instructions for such and such a portrait type. They try to copy someone else's wedding photography style, but color everything pink instead of gold as 'my personal style'.
Copying someone else's pictures is a fine way to develop technique. But it's not a way to make photographs, it's only a way to make copies of photographs.
By all means look at other people's pictures. Then go find your own. It might be a copy of someone else's, in fact it'll probably look a lot like something or some things you've seen. But it should not consciously be a copy. It should be what your heart tells you if the right picture in that place, of that thing, in that moment.
The standard 500px landscape (of Type II) with the saturated greens, the fuzzed out water (by use of a Lee Big Stopper, natch), and the incredible depth of field is up-voted, +1'd, favorited or whatever. But it's rarely the right picture of whatever the camera was pointed at. It's not a photograph, it's a copy of a photograph. It was made to get +1'd, not because it was the right picture of that scene. The portrait with the perfectly dialed in Rembrandt lighting and the hairlight just so is made because that's what the book says, or that's what Rembrandt did, or because my peers will like it. It's not the right picture of the sitter. It's not a photograph, it's a copy of a photograph.
The idea of the right picture is at least partly subjective, of course. But people can tell. They can tell, ultimately, if you're putting your heart into a portfolio. They can tell that you're struggling for an idea and finding it, that these are -- for you -- the right pictures of the things. They can tell you're not just copying someone else popular. They probably can't put it into words, but they can tell. They might not like your pictures, but they can feel the power, if you put it in there. At least, some of them can, some of the time, and that's about as good as it gets.
People +1 the landscapes, but they don't look at them, and they don't come back to look at them again. +1 just means "meets expectations".