To see before you see? That is the question…

What is “previsualization”? Well Webster’s online dictionary says that it is a technique in which low-cost digital technology aids the filmmaking process. It involves using computer graphics (usually 3D) to create rough versions of the shots in a movie sequence.

Then again George Carlin will tell you bullshit & that the word “previsualization” is a meaningless f…ing term. What does it really say? To see before you see??? lol!

Before I begin to explain the premise of this article, let me ask you, the audience one question.

What is the common process of taking a photo?

1. When you see something interesting, you lift your camera, fiddle with the settings & take the shot.

2. When you get home, you load the photo on your computer & figure out how to edit it.

3. Next, you think about how the final picture should look like & then decide how you should publish it so that your friends can see it.

4. Lastly, you post the photo on facebook & see what kind of comments & you gauge the emotion from their reaction.

Did I sum it up just about right?

Now let me tell you about 2 very contrasting stories.

Story no.1

Not long ago, I was in front of the Penang courthouse where the statue of Temperance was. Folks may remember the shot I took in my photo album titled, “Darn… what to shoot on a gloomy day?” on my facebook.

While I was taking the shot of the statue, there was this middle eastern guy also with a DSLR shooting the same subject as I was. The difference was that he was using what looked like a D2x or D3…. I didn’t quite get a good look at it. And on the body was a 70-200mm f2.8 VR… this I saw quite clearly. You can’t miss this lens not for a million miles away lol!

So there he was, firing his shutter on poor Temperance at the rate like one of those fashion photographers. At the same time he was squatting here, stretching there… all kinds of really awkward poses which I swear if I could really bend that way, I’d be in porno movies lol!
Then after a series of deafening barrage of shutter fires, he’d view his LCD screen & put on that really lansi pout… which I think he meant to attract attention by performing this extremely conspicuous behavior.

Eventually after shooting a couple of hundred shots & stopping to chimp on his LCD a few times, he muttered something in his native language which I guessed was, “Not enough light”… partly because it was truly a gloomy afternoon that day & the fact that he quickly ripped out his SB800 from his camera case, which by the way had wheels on it! And it had a trolley handle as well much like folks use to carry onto airplanes when commuting by flight. This joker travelled half way around the world lugging all his camera gear… Not sure if he really used all of it, or it was just his vanity at stake!

So he slapped his flash on his camera & continued to bombard the statue with his modified flash bang grenade launcher. I was really getting pissed off with this fella. The disco lights fiasco was really annoying me. For pits sake the darn thing is friggin’ stationary.. compose your shot, take it & get lost already!

I gave up & left…..

Story no.2

Quite a number of years ago, when I was still shooting using a prosumer digital camera, I happened to stumble upon an american couple visiting Malaysia for the first time, what I would call “old school” photographers. They were carrying Olympus 35mm SLRs … notice! No D in the front of the SLR! They were obviously husband & wife, both SLR photographers… I met them while I was at the orchid farm near Equitorial Hotel (since then now closed).

I was chatting with the wife a bit talking about film vs. digital & all the bells & whistles of the modern-day digital camera & how it still wasn’t as good as film…well back then digital cameras were nowhere near film output, I guess the perception of that has changed over the years. Anyway while we were chatting we were also taking shots of the orchids & the cactus that was at the sanctuary. Not only was I listening to her words, I was closely watching her actions. I watched how she carefully studied & selected her composition. She was slowly & painstakingly analysing the light with the spot meter. She took her time to plan, think & adjust before she was ready to take the shot. Then after each shot, she picks up her little notebook which was hanging on her belt with a short leash, then began to write something on it with a pencil. LOL she was so old school she didn’t even use a pen. She said that if she was in an awkward position & have to write upwards, at least a pencil will still write upside down!! ROFL!!

Later on when my curiosity got the best of me, I then asked what she was writing in the little notebook of hers. Well she said she was writing down the film roll which she numbered (she showed me her bag of unprocessed film with she tagged all her rolls of film with numbers on them), then next she wrote the exposure number (remember when 35mm cameras only had 36 shots a roll? And not 3,497 shots left on your fancy IXUS with that humongous 32GB SD card you just bought from PC Fair?)…

So she would write something like…
#7-23-4 1/60 f8
#7-24-1 1/250 f4
#7-25-2 1/125 f5.6
The last 2 values was obviously shutter & aperture….the one before it was the zone number.

Jumpin Jupiters!

She was marking each shot exactly where it was on the roll so that during the film processing, she was going to process each shot with different lighting information, based on the setting on her camera at the time of the shot!! I said, I thought film only comes in rolls of ISO100, 200… so on so forth? She said, ya… but she processes them differently depending on the situation & the lighting. What I later learned was that she used a method called the zone system which Ansel Adams developed to cope with the inability of the camera to anticipate the tonal value of a particular shot especially if you shoot in difficult light. The only way you can master this technique is if you have the sense of being able to visualize the final print that you are looking for. The basic rule was to “Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.”

It was obvious to me that much of what I admired about this couple wasn’t about their gear nor about they were from the old school, but more about the observing, thinking & preparation they took before pressing the shutter release button & the post processing.

At the end she showed me her portfolio which she had in her bag. Both she & her husband shot some really fine work in their travels around the world, I have to say!

The difference between the 2 stories are striking. One slow, meticulous & plans every single shot. Well she had to because processing each roll costs about $10 even doing it herself. The other with a state of the art auto focus, auto exposure, auto white balance camera that probably its past life was an AK47. As I have seen through my years in this hobby, it is not folks with the latest, most expensive gear… not even experience, that get the good shots. But it is those who take the time to think & plan their shots that produce the most emotionally striking pictures.

… back to previsualization…

In essence, the meaning is the process of looking at a scene & manufacturing how the finished image will look like in its final format… including all the steps you need to go through to get to that final jpg/print. This drives a photographer to stop & think about the end process of delivering an image simply because it is important that the desired result was exactly how the photographer had envisioned the photo in the first place. Not shoot first & talk later lol!!

Remember the earlier question I raised…. Ok now take a look at the way that we should be doing to get better looking shots…

1. Emotion – Make a decision on the kind of reaction you want to draw out from the audience.
2. The final jpg/print – Since I know the desired reaction, I can decide where to publish the photo
3. Medium of execution – Since I know if I’m going to put this photo on a website or print it out, I know which photo editing tool to use, may it be CaptureNX or Photomatix
4. Editing – Since I know the desired emotional response, what end result & which software I’m going to use, I now know the best way to edit the photo
5. Take the shot – Knowing all the steps 1-4, I can now decide the best way to compose, set the camera & finally, capture the shot!

Oik? This looks suspiciously like your method of taking photos…. just backwards!! LOL!

The Image

This photo at the Penang Jetty was taken back in 2008. I woke up smack at 5am, dragged myself out of bed… freshened up & called master Chooi on my cell. “Oik…on ar?”.. then answer came with a croaking toad’s voice, “Ya ya… see you there”.
Then off to the pier, Kevin was already there & Azlan joined a little there after. We set up our tripods & plonked ourselves at our chosen spots & did some test shots just to ensure our cameras were set correctly & no light was getting in from our viewfinder to spoil those long shutter shots.

Getting the depth of feel – The Emotion

…or getting the correct emotion. A good image is all about communicating the feel of the shot. If a photographer does not feel any emotion for the scene, it is unlikely that the viewer of the finished product will feel anything at all.

I’ve been to the spot a couple of times before, usually in the evenings but because the scene faces east, sunsets don’t work very well for this location. So it had to be an early sunrise shot to get the colours that I wanted.

What I’ve always envisioned was a brightly lit sunrise shot with the sail boats in the foreground & the orange, purple & blue highlights across the sky. The image needed to be contrasty, warm & colourful yet not too yellow & not too blue. It had to be… just right!

The final image

There were really a few places I can publish the finished result. Facebook for one, my photoblog, Shutterasia & Photomalaysia. The photo will likely be 800x??? resolution & the quality had to be good enough for viewing on the web. I had no intention of making a print.


I contemplated between normal old fashion photography or HDR. I wasn’t very pleased with the results I got from shooting sunrises at the Jerejak Jetty a couple of weeks back. It’s not easy to control noise when trying to do HDR images. Bloody nightmare to be honest!

I’ll stick to using Nikon’s CaptureNX to do my editing.


Image sharpness & vibrant colours was my primary objective. This dictated the way I was going to edit the image & produce good enough quality for a web publish. It didn’t need to have many pixels, as I’ve already decided.

I envisioned that I would adjust the contrast & lighten up the shadows. This would automatically make the colours jump out. Depending on how much I’d crank the contrast up, I may have to turn the colour saturation down a bit so that the reds & yellows don’t overwhelm the viewers. Then I know I will tweak the sky & water with CaptureNX’s colour point control. Very useful tool & very easy to use. This is to ensure that the right colour & brightness intensity to balance the entire photo so that it comes out perfect!

The shot

We had like 30-40mins before the sun came out. So we talked cock & monkeyed around a bit with Kevin’s “strobe” lol… see the photo at the bottom of the page!

When the sun started to rise, I took a few test shots… didn’t see the shot that I wanted. So waited some more. In the next couple of minutes the sun rose above the horizon… & I crossed my fingers.

Then suddenly as if magic, the angle of the light bounced off the clouds above, created that purple pinkish refection that I was praying for…. I checked my exposure, redialed my shutter speed… snap!

Ok… balik kampung!!!

Well not all shots need to be previsualized. At times, the full auto settings on the camera can be quite nifty. No amount of previsualization could have gotten me the shot like the one below… ROFL!!!

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