Issue 5: Visual Eyes

Taking The Photo Before You Take The Photo: Previsualize

For the past couple of months I’ve been talking about camera equipment, features, and camera handling. Now I’m going to delve into the meat of kite photography and photography itself: photo composition. Over the next few articles, I’ll be discussing different elements of composition. Composition is the placement and utilization of objects and lighting in a picture to make the viewers see and feel exactly what you want them to feel. In short, it’s the way your picture looks that makes people react. Most of these concepts or elements you will notice you use already. Most people do. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they use them until after they are shown to them, and after the picture is taken.

One of the major keys to good composition is the practice of previsualization. Previsualization is the act of looking at the scene in front of your lens before you take the picture, even before you raise the camera to your eye. Previsualization allows you to evaluate what is in front of you before you snap the shot. It allows you to get it right the first time, so you don’t have to wait to take a second. We all know that most experts agree: doing it right the first time is much less costly than having to do it a second, third, or fourth.

I’m only touching on previsualization now, because as you learn elements of composition in the future, you really won’t be able to use them without the basics of previsualization.


Previsualizing is attention to detail. After you decide the mood of your photo (which, again will be discussed in further detail in the coming articles), you need to set-up and previsualize. Doing it takes a couple seconds out of your time, but rewards you with better photos. It can be broken down into X steps:

1. Subject

The first thing you need for a proper kite photo is a proper kiting subject. Of course kites are fair game, that’s why we carry cameras at the events, but also kite activities such as the banquet, pilots meetings, and score-board scouring are also fair game. Also, kite people are always fun subjects. face it, with many of today’s kiting events and gatherings, kite people do some of the craziest stuff. Personally, I have found great photos in some of the “Kite Rituals” people do, like celebrating victory or good luck dances. Today’s tricks also put flyers in a variety of contortionist poses that make for high energy shots. Again here I have my own favorites (indoor, axel-ish tricks, buggy tricks). And of course, gatherings at the Banquet provide humourous situations, especially with the advent of laser pointers.

2. Background

The next part of your photo should be obvious: the background.  A good subject can be nulled out by a bad background. Background choice is usually much simpler than subject choice. The rule here is uncomplicated: avoid busy backgrounds unless they are important to the subject. For example: Taking a picture of two people meeting at an event, you want to avoid placing them in front of a billboard UNLESS that billboard has the name of the event in it. There are a few ways to fix a background. With kites and a decent zoom lens, you can launch the kite (with a cooperative pilot, you can even get it placed right in the sky). With people and an automatic camera, your only choice may be to move the photo, or change the angle to avoid the busy background. With a manual camera, you have all the above choices and one extra. You can open your aperture up in order to produce a shallow depth of field and “blur” out the backdrop.

3. Light Source

When previsualizing, pay attention to where your light is coming from and how strong it is. Believe it or not, cloudy days can be great for photos. Why? Because the light is diffused and has no real “source.” Most outdoor shots on sunny days suffer from the same problem, harsh shadows. These harsh shadows can make someone look disfigured or too dark. Or, if the light is from behind the subject, you may wind up with silhouetted subjects (unless that is what you want, but that’s a later article). For best results outdoors or in strong light source situations, try to position that source behind YOURSELF and shining on the subject frontally (unless the shadows are a desired effect).

4. Lens Choice

You may think lens choice only applies to SLR users, but that is a misconception. Most compact cameras are equipped with a zoom lens that has a slightly wide angle end and a higher zoom capability. Use of this lens properly is a key. If you can get close to your subject, do so and use a wide angle. This will get more in your picture. If you want to do minor cropping on your own. To properly use that zoom, site up your subject and zoom to the desired crop. Example: Shooting a kite maker and his or her kite, you’d start at the low end and zoom in with the lens and back up your body until there is just a bit of space around the two.

5. Angle

Now that you have cropped the shot visually, gotten your light source, background and subject all in line and think you’re ready to take the picture, you have one more choice to make. That choice is angle of view. There are three basic angles, which can be mixed with left and right to produce differing effects. they are Top Down (Bird’s Eye), Head On (People Eye), and Bottom Up (Worm’s Eye). Since most kites would be in the air when you shoot, this kind of photo is predominately Worm’s Eye. Most people shots are from People Eye, straight on. Very few kite shots, save for Kite Aerials, are from Bird’s Eye. Striking photos can be made by mixing these angles up. Changing angles will be covered in a separate article.

And that’s the basics of previsualization for general photos. Coming up, we’ll get into Mood and how to convey it. The discussion of mood will also start actual photo composition, so stay tuned!