We're always told to envision the final image before we press the shutter. Frankly, I'm not quite sure what that means. I mean, I'm evaluating the scene prior to picking up my camera; I'm looking at a little rectangle image in the viewfinder; I'm placing my subject artistically in the frame; I'm evaluating my exposure; if Athena the God of good judgement is with me I'm checking the edges of my frame, not just my subject. Does this qualify as "envisioning the final image?"
A nagging doubt makes me suspect not. I'm often surprised when I see the image on the back of my camera. Sometimes I see things there I didn't see in the viewfinder. How three dimensions mutate when compressed onto two dimensions.
Having obviously not mastered the basics, I'm still foraging ahead to what I now see as the next level: envisioning the image as the viewer. Not as the photographer. As the viewer. What emotions will it evoke? What is it's use? Will it be used for marketing? Education? Pure enjoyment? How do these things relate to what the viewer sees?
And here's the point. We (the photographer) take the picture. If we're professionals, it's for someone else. That person sees it not just as a picture, but as a tool. It is a memory enhancer, or art to go on the wall, or a seller of product (shoes or dresses or beer), or a seller of brand (sexy accountant-- no, sorry, dedicated accountant). If we want to excel as photographers we need to be knowledgeable in these areas, too. Not just light ratios but marketing, adult learning theory, and social networks. That's how our images are being used. When the client looks at our pictures they're thinking, "does this sell, brand, remind, or beautify?" Most often it's the first of those: "does this image sell my product?"
That's not as grim as it sounds. Seeing the image as the client isn't about adulterating your art with marketing schmooze. Knowing marketing (and by extension the customer being marketed to) is simply another tool, another lens filter. Consider this: Shooting for a magazine you'd naturally consider negative space. Your "dedicated accountant" wants to exude knowledge and assurance-- emotional qualities you might have pursued in your image anyway. Negative space, emotional content-- those are important considerations in marketing. If you've ever done either of those two things, you've envisioned the image as the viewer. But that's just the tip of the monster.
At Hurricane Images we posted a blog designed to help Etsy sellers use the videos we made for them. When we work with merchants and artisans we start with the question, "what does our client want to express?" We finish with the question, "what do their customers want to buy?" The client looks at our videos and images not as sellers, but as customers. What are they really buying?
If you think about that question you realize they're not buying a handcrafted piece of jewelry. They were buying the experience of being the subject of everyone's attention in the room. They're buying an object that takes everyone else's breath away. Our video wasn't about jewelry, it was about breathlessness. Shoot that. Think about what the background should evoke. Is it intimacy or expanse, warmth or a winter night? Is it a cocktail party out of focus? A hand submerged in fur on a cold night? It's not a ring, it's an experience.
That's thinking like a marketer. That's seeing the work as your client.