The Anatomy of an Image

My Thought Process in Image Making.

Recently, while walking my dog beside a small frozen lake near my house, I saw snow patterns on the ice. I immediately thought of the visual design possibilities, so I set a small photographic assignment for myself.

I’m going to take you through my ‘thought process’ as I approached my assignment.


Stage I. The Period of Imaginative Bliss.

My first perception was of lines, shapes, patterns, and divisions of space. The more intently I looked, the more elements I saw. There was colour, textures, movement, and the possibility to emphasize rhythm, harmony, and balance. This is the stage I find most exciting, as it all comes to life in my imagination. Within my inner world, the possibilities are endless, and the images I visualize are all masterpieces!

Stage II.  The Period of Photographic Reality.

This is the stage when I collect my physical tools (camera and lenses), and draw on my inventory of making 1000’s of images over the years. I go to work. At this point, knowledge of visual design and experience with one’s tools takes over. The very act of creating imagery is all-consuming. I enter a zone, exploring and experimenting with the various elements of composition. 

Similar to stage I, I also find this stage exciting, but rather than being in my imagination, I am now dealing with a reality.


Stage III.  The Period of Completion and Imaginative Loss. 

Eventually the weather changes, the ice melts, and the elements disappear. My photographic assignment is over, and I experience an actual sense of loss. I can’t go back to seek new compositions, use different tools, or camera techniques. 

There is, however, that rewarding sense of completion. I did the best that I could with the time, the knowledge, and the subject I had. I feel satisfied. It was an artistically rewarding experience. I learned from that experience, and I will take that new knowledge to my next photographic assignment.

In Retrospect:

In contemplating my entire assignment experience, the most challenging part is stage II. Although stage I is imaginatively exciting and mentally stimulating, stage II requires real action; physically getting your tools, going on location, and doing the work.  

Just as a painter must make that first brush stroke, we photographers must also make that first image. In the end, all artists must simply ‘do the work’. That’s the challenge of art.

All images were made ‘in-camera’ using single or multiple exposures combined with camera movement when desired. Editing is minimal, pertaining mostly to colour balance and contrast.


Story and photos by Chris Harris

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