anticipation (ænˌtɪsɪˈpeɪʃən) — n 1. the act of anticipating; expectation, premonition, or foresight – World English Dictionary

One of the greatest pleasures that large format photography gives me is the manner in which it encourages anticipation of the end result; the photograph. This feeling of anticipation is based upon a foundation of contemplation, thought and preparation. Conceiving the photograph, setting up the camera and preparing to take the photograph is a time consuming process in large format photography; with time measured in minutes, not seconds as is common with SLR type cameras.

However, anticipation is not limited to large format photographers, it’s a valuable emotion that all photographers can harness, regardless what type of camera used. It does however, require a different approach to photography than many SLR photographers are used to using. It’s an approach based upon forethought about how a scene could be rendered, and not a reaction to how it is.

Moonrise over Chinaman’s Hat. Kualoa Regional Park, Oahu, Hawaii.

Moonrise over Chinaman’s Hat. Kualoa Regional Park, Oahu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII Camera, Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens on Fuji Velvia 100F.

Neither approach is wrong, of course, but I’ve found that my finest results come when I’ve anticipated the results before taking the photograph. So, what are the steps that go into the process of anticipation?

1. Know what you want. It seems quite elemental, but many photographers go out to take photographs without any thought given to what they desire to photograph or how it fits with their interests and photographic goals. It doesn’t matter if the objective is to photograph the sunrise, or whether the outing is part of a larger, more all encompassing, project. Knowing and defining the objective – the photographer’s “vision” – is essential.

It is not a peripheral subject reserved for the photographic elite or photographers with a sociopathic bent towards navel-gazing. It is the place we begin, and the road we travel, on the way to our goal – creating compelling photographs that express something we’ve no other means of expressing but through the frame.”David duChemin – The Vision Driven Photographer.

Without a clearly defined vision, the photographer will flounder, and there can be no real anticipation of what lies ahead, for the photograph. The lack of vision will carry over into the overall body of the photographer’s work, defining it in an unflattering manner. Vision enables you to glimpse into the future, to sense its hope and power, and builds a sense of anticipation that can be fulfilled by your photography.

2. Preparation and research. Once the determination about what to photograph has been made, the next step is to prepare to take the photograph. This can be one of the more mundane parts of the anticipation process, but it’s the part where you learn what is possible for the given subject and location.

I like to begin by considering the location and the lighting that I expect while there. Some subjects work better early in the morning, while others work better in the afternoon. Additionally, knowing the type of terrain to expect you can get a sense of how long it will take to get into position, and the direction where the majority of the lighting will come from. A good topographical map or a computer program like Photographer’s Ephemeris can be quite helpful.


Dawn, Moeraki Boulders. Moeraki, New Zealand. Toyo 45AII, Schneider Symmar XL 80mm f4.5 lens on Fuji Velvia 50, .6 (two-stop) Split Neutral Density filter along the horizon.

I also make extensive use of the Internet, scouring through blogs, photographs and other sources for information about the location I’m going to photograph. As I’m going through all these, I like to keep track of the bits and pieces that I find in Microsoft OneNote 2010, which I’ll then refer to while on location.

Not all of your research needs to be of a formal nature – after all, research is not supposed to be a chore – sometimes the research is simply based upon past experiences. It needs to be of the type that frees the mind to concentrate on the creative aspects of photography, which in turn builds excitement and anticipation.

3. Know your equipment. You need to both understand the operation of your equipment, and be able to operate it without having to pay too much attention to the physical aspects of setting it up and taking the photograph. You may need to setup and shoot in the dark, or simply work quickly in changing light.

The act of knowing the operation of your equipment means much more than knowing how to set the aperture and shutter speed. For example, it can also entail choosing the correct filters for the lighting situation; knowing how to setup and use split neutral density filters; if you are a film photographer it can entail knowing which type of film emulsion works the best in the given situation. In short, it’s about the physical aspects of taking the photograph. Knowing your equipment will often entail the need to photograph simply for the sake of keeping up proficiency with the equipment.

This is the time when the creative aspects of photography must rule. As I stated before, the creative act builds excitement and anticipation.

Finally. I hope that I haven’t given the impression that this is a long, drawn out process. In fact, anticipation can build quickly, even explosively, in a matter of seconds from the initial idea to the final photograph. Of course, that is not always the case, but when it does, these steps I’ve laid out lead to being prepared, regardless how quickly or slowly it strikes.

In his book, “The Vision Driven Photographer” photographer David duChemin recounts his series of photographs about a blind man in Nepal. His narrative clearly shows the thought processes that led up to anticipating his final results. This narrative clearly illustrates a build up of anticipation and excitement.

Photo Narration

Moonrise over Chinaman’s Hat – For this photograph, I knew that when the trade winds weren’t blowing, that there are certain areas along the windward coast of Oahu where the water would be still, the trees almost unmoving, and the sky would be fairly clear. Kualoa Beach Park is one of the places I go in these situations. What I didn’t anticipate was that the sliver of the moon would be so close to the horizon. Fortunately, I knew my equipment well enough to be able to set it up in the dark.

Dawn, Moeraki Boulders – I had arrived the afternoon before this photograph was taken. While there I scouted around the boulders to see how they lay in relation to the beach. At the time the surf was out, and the boulders were dry. I camped out at a nearby campground, and made the short 1.5km walk from the campground to the boulders in the dark. Living in Hawaii, I was quite familiar with shooting along the shoreline, so after setting up this shot, I waited until the surf had just begun to retreat before snapping the shutter. I knew this was the optimum time, when the sand would still be wet, and I could get a sense of movement in the water.

More Information

  • The Vision Driven Photographer – David duChemin. An excellently written and insightful ebook detailing the process of thinking about the photograph – thinking about the photographers “Vision”.
  • Landscape Within – David Ward. If there is a philosopher in photography, I would have to think that David Ward is it. David’s book “Landscape Within” gets to the heart of why we photograph the way we do, and why we look at the landscape as we do.

See also: Field Tips: Being Aware of Your Surroundings.


About roteague
I’m a landscape photographer, residing on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. I love large format photography, in fact, I love any kind of photography involving film.

12 Responses to Anticipation

  1. Gary VanAusdle says:

    Nice to see your very professional website with your amazing photos.

  2. George Birdwell says:

    You enjoy the anticipation and then the reality of the results but you also get to share them with others. Both these shots are incredible.

  3. Alisa Greig says:

    great post! thanks for sharing 🙂

    • roteague says:

      Thanks Alisa, I’m glad you found this helpful. I think you live here on the island, so look for more entries and photos of Oahu in the future (all on film, BTW).

  4. prefabrik says:

    its very nice and amazing photos.

  5. Greg Russell says:

    Very nice post and images! I agree that anticipation is a big driving force in photography. For me, it can build up during the weeks or months leading up to a trip, and then, in the moment I try to settle down (as it were) and carefully compose my images, think about exposure, and as you say, knowing your equipment is a huge factor playing into that.


    • roteague says:

      Thank you for the comments Greg. It’s the anticipation of what can be, that gets us out of bed well before dark, and keeps us going through the day. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Rob Oresteen says:

    Gorgeous picture…great article.

  7. munchow says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. A very interesting article. Although I have a complete different approach when shooting (I work much more intuitively than the way you describe here), I totally agree with you on the three steps of anticipation. Our vision is what makes our photos stand out. Gorgeous pictures on your post.

  8. Beautiful!

  9. Wayne says:

    Beautiful images and I particularly enjoyed reading your narratives. I hope you resume posting to your blog!

  10. amagicman1111 says:

    A fine set of images. My impression from your post, and my own thoughts on it, is that anticipation operates on several levels and in a number of ways. There is the excitement of looking forward to going photographing that Greg mentioned, the exhilaration of coming upon a picturesque subject, and what you are mainly focusing on here, which seems to me to be close to what Ansel Adams called pre-visualization. Thus you have a quite relevant subject and the right word to define it, in my opinion. Did you ever meet my father, large format conservation photographer Philip Hyde? His approach involved anticipation and pre-visualization to be sure, but leading up to and before the pre-visualization process, he often allowed a scene to work on him for a while first, before imposing his own ideas on it. Some photographers place so much emphasis on visualization and creation that they often miss the more subtle aspects of a setting and even can risk missing the essence of the landscape because of their own pre-conceptions they bring to it. Of course, you can’t escape imposing yourself entirely, and who would want to, as this is part of what makes the creative process. At the same time, my father was a product of the Edward Weston school, in which efforts went toward eliminating the self as much as possible. As you say, either approach is valid and neither is wrong, just different. I find that part of the fulfillment in photographing has to do with discovering how I will interpret and select elements in a scene, which is part of the anticipation you describe. I often think of what Minor White, another of Dad’s mentors, said about the photographer’s inner life coming out in his or her framing of an image. I find that I am not only in my photographs, but that I am my photographs. Whatever I am thinking or going through at the time, comes out in my images.

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