contemplative photography Photo Journal

Lesson 1: Consider Your Vision

What is your vision as a photographer? Have you thought about it? Do you have a vision?

I read about photographers who talk about “style.” And I wonder what my style is. Do I even have a style? And I read about writers who talk about “voice.” I even teach writers to find their voices and to adapt their voices to their purposes for writing.

I don’t necessarily do the same to my own photography. This month, while I’m on hiatus from teaching written communication and composition, I am going to work through some of the lessons in David de Chemin’s book The Visual Toolbox, his vision of what a photography curriculum should include. The first lesson is a tough one: “Consider Your Vision.” De Chemin often puts vision ahead of technical matters of photography. For him, the “narrative” and the emotion conveyed by the image is more important than technical considerations of equipment and settings.

The first assignment is this: look through your photographs and identify your favorite images, not the ones that everyone else likes or the ones that are technically perfect (although they may be one and the same at times), but the ones that you like. Look for the things that they have in common and identify those elements. Some things to look for: subjects, color, lighting. These are part of your vision.

I am looking through my Lightroom catalog and identifying some of my favorite images. This is one of my most recent images:untitled-30

It is typical of my usual subject: nature. I tend to capture nature a lot! Well, it’s a handy subject for me! I live “in the country” and have lots of things to see. It’s not easy capturing a dragonfly, though, and I was lucky to get this one. And I did have to crop in a bit so that you could see the thing. I am in awe of Creation and the beauty that God has created in nature.  I also like to make images that have lots of “white space” around the subject so that I can add textures when I’m editing to give my images a painterly look.


I also look for textures in nature, especially in florals.


And I like to see the little details, such as those little “spikes” in the button bush flowers. I find that I use my lenses “wide open” with large apertures so that I can focus on my subject and create a blurred background.

Another thing I’m drawn to is reflections.


Just another way of seeing the world.

This is just the beginning of seeing what my vision is. What is your vision as a photographer?

contemplative photography

Abstract Photography—Contemplative Photography

There are a couple of ways that we can think about the word abstract. In the academic publishing world, authors often must write “abstracts” that provide the reader with an overview of the essential points of an article or a dissertation or a book. The writer focuses in on those points that give the work its shape and direction. In art, “abstract” often refers to a nonliteral artistic representation of an idea, theme or subject, often relying on color or shape to suggest the subject.

I’m going to refer to Freeman Patterson again. He writes of the photographer’s need to abstract a subject or scene to see the lines, shapes, and colors and tonality. He suggests that since our subjects are made up of these things, then it is necessary to see those things. And sometimes, we can  use these elements to suggest a subject in a non-literal way.


I am often fascinated by reflections in water. There is enough literal detail in this image (the shoreline with the bottoms of the trees) to indicate that I am making a photograph of trees. However, the main part of the image is the reflection. When I took the image, the wind was blowing and the lake surface was ripples.. Nature made the image an abstract. The trees reflected on the water’s surface suggest autumn color without being a literal representation.

There are other ways to make abstract photographs. David du Chemin suggests horizontal or vertical camera movement to blur the image. Using a subject with straight lines works very well for this type of photography.

Kim Manley Ort suggests focusing on a part of a subject and capturing just enough of the subject to suggest what it is, as I did for this image of the zinnia.


Andy Carr in his book on the practice of contemplative photography takes it a step further and says that we can focus on the color alone or a particular shape or line. There really is no one way to “do” abstract photography.

Making abstract photographs, though does force us to slow down and look closely at the object or the scene and pick out the most telling detail. In some ways, it is like deconstructing the subject and examining each part. Sometimes, the abstract says more to the viewer than the literal interpretation.