How to Know if You Have Found Your Photographic Vision


How to Know if You Have Found Your Photographic Vision

How do you know when you have found your vision?

There is much talk throughout the photo community about finding your vision and strategies to find your own.

I have wondered if this means that when you don’t find it you will never graduate from mediocre to magnificent.

What exactly is finding your vision’?

Is it when you have the ability to observe light and composition better? Is it the ability to pre-visualize so you know exactly how you will capture the subject and once done, the photograph is magical?

Maybe you have ‘found your vision’ when you win a photo contest or license an image, or you are simply producing a higher number of stunning images than others?

And then who decides when you have found your vision: you or the viewers of your images?

In the world of photography, how good we are as photographers is often tied to our creative self esteem.  Like much in life, photographers as well self impose a rating system as a way to measure their photographic worthiness.

Does this mean then, if we love our images and no one else does, we have failed at finding our vision?

aspens fall foliage color yellow photo photographs mountains colorado


I once had a student who took a 1-year commercial photography course from me and while I thought her work was typical for any student at that time in the course, about halfway through I got an email where she stated; “Obviously I am not cut out to be a photographer, you can tell by my work.” She never answered another email from me.

Her decision was not based on the fact that she was no good and never would be, it was in my opinion her false idea that she could create the images used in the lesson examples by pointing the camera the same direction and placing the lights in the same position.

She had, again in my opinion, lost patience with the journey required to find her vision. She wanted instant perfection by following a formula for camera angle and light position and was unwilling to learn the process of creating.

Great photography is not created by a recipe where the necessary elements are precise cupfuls of all the required ingredients.

The Fire Within



I am happy with my vision, very happy. I most enjoy my working life when out in the wilds, but my vision also thrives on the computer in creating what are to me beautiful and highly conceptual imagery.

While in the field, I have been asked by others visiting an area I am photographing: “what are you photographing” as they wonder why my camera is pointed at nothing. When I show them what I have framed the response is often similar to “wow, I did not see that.”

Rather than comparing our success to other nature photographers, take a moment and look at non-photographers.

Many watch the world pass by and are oblivious to the fine details of the natural world around them. Photographers have chosen a path that puts themselves more in tune with the world and the earth, as they stop and take the time to look and listen, smell and touch.

This connection is driven by our desire to search, discover, capture and share.

The simple fact that a nature photographer sees something the average person might not means that some degree of vision has been found.

Early in my career I enjoyed ‘taking pictures’ but at some point I became an imaging junkie. I have never been able to slow my brain from coming up with ideas for images all the time and at any time. I think for me, I have found my vision, but it did not happen overnight. It has been a long journey.


Vision is never 100% perfect otherwise every picture taken would be perfect. We all want to be great photographers but here again there is no such thing as perfect.

While a photograph that brings me great joy and I feel is ‘perfect’ may not elicit the same response from another viewer. So perfection is only a state of mind.

I don’t think finding your vision is about discovering a way to create perfect photos every time.  It is instead the process of mastering visualization that drives us in a direction we want to go.

Sometimes finding your vision means letting go of something like ‘the rules’ or listening to too many ‘experts.’  The search to finding our vision is what drives us forward; helps guide us on the path to discovery.

You wont know where you are going if you don’t remember where you have been.

The goal to find your vision is not like reaching some destination and crossing the finish line. Rather it is more about the journey to originality. It is about discovering where your creative spirit lies. And it starts with commitment!

  •  Commitment helps you find our path. Having a vision helps you follow that path.
  •  Commitment allows you to focus on your vision and this is how you become unique. Vision is what defines you and makes you uniquely different from others.

 Is it the journey that drives the vision or the vision that drives the journey?


  • You must embrace originality, not just shoot what’s in front of you.
  • While emulating other photographers is a great learning tool, you cannot really claim to have found your vision if you copy the work of others.
  • Photograph what you really care about.
  • Visualizing the end result provides guidance in capture.
  • The camera is your partner, telling you how to technically record the scene but you have to tell the camera WHAT TO CAPTURE
  • You must believe you are creative and if you do not believe that, you never will be.

Finding your vision comes from perseverance and practice.  When you feel you hit the wall, start again by turning left or turning right and continuing the journey.

Remember great photographs are not waiting for the next photographer to stumble along and capture them like a product on a store shelf waiting to be bought.

 Great photographs don’t exist until a photographer sees and creates them.

12 thoughts on “How to Know if You Have Found Your Photographic Vision”

  1. Very well said, Charlie. For some people trying to find their Vision, it may help to review a body of work already produced and look for common themes, visual “styles” and ways of perceiving the subject. Some may realize they have actually already found their vision.

  2. Hi Greg-

    Very good points. As I think back, I am sure that one of my biggest influences in photography was the many hours looking at others photographs in books and mags. It is a great way to study.


  3. Hi Steve-

    Your comment made me think that while we may feel we have found our vision, the journey to find it really never ends. Thanks for commenting.


  4. Charlie,

    I was very lucky to find your work on the web and take your Smokey Mountain Workshop in 2007. It started me on a new path in life and one that has given me such great rewards. Digital photography – with it’s entire process in your own hands – from capture to print, the comment about being an “image junkie” just doesn’t exemplify enough where I’m at now in my life. “Is it the journey that drives the vision or the vision that drives the journey?” Who care…..I’m in!

    There are two good books that I really like that helped me in understand the pitfalls, speed bumps and potholes that keep us from the creative path: “The Art of Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland and the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

    It’s that ongoing journey, that walk we have to make ourselves and in doing so….in time, vision shows up. Or, maybe it’s been there all like and we just learn to clarify it.

    Thanks for all your teachings Charlie. I always learn from you.

  5. Hi Vickie-

    So very nice to hear from you! I am so happy that photography continues to be a part of your life and brings you great joy. It does to me and so many others in this crazy world. Today is Nature Photography Day so we should all go put our vision to work taking pictures. 🙂

    All the best!

  6. Great comments Charlie. You verbalized what a lot of photographers know intuitively but can’t express because the concept of “vision” or “style” is so difficult to interpret. And so subjective.

  7. I’d like to shar my opinion.
    “Vision” is something abstract, we cannot say for sure if someone has it.
    But we can guess by indirect criteria. Like if someone guesses this photo is yours or says “this photo is so much your style!” and then cannot explain why 🙂
    So maybe vision is a style, your way of doing things, a set of techniques, which you like and which work best for you…
    And we should be careful because if we have a set of techniques, we may stop inventing, which is a road to nowhere.

    Moving thoughts forward, I’d say that style is just a part of a vision. What else is there? Something ethereal which helps you to see harmony or state of the nature or feel its mood and ability to express it. And it for sure involves your general filters – how you see the world, positive or negative, friendly or unfriendly etc.

    Well, I was up to a short comment and somehow its almost a poem now :)))
    Thanks for the article, things like this foce people to think.

Comments are closed.