Vantage Points

A column written for the Northport Arts Coalition section of the Northport Observer.

Creating Photographs: Two Approaches

John Ellsworth distinguishes between previsualization and postvisualizaton.

First appeared March. 10, 2005 • All rights reserved • © 2005 John Ellsworth

There are two primary approaches to producing photo prints, whether one uses film or digital photography. One is as a previsualist, the other as a postvisualist.  A previsualist tries to produce an image that replicates what he or she saw in the viewfinder. The postvisualist creates an image that is composed of multiple elements from other photographs by adding and altering them into a seamless cohesion. Essentially, the photographer creates a montage or composite.

Dream House:
A single-source photo

The previsualist may be considered a straight, conventional, or realistic photographer. The postvisualist may be considered a fictional, or surrealistic photographer. Either photographer may generate abstract and symbolic images. Either photographer may use the darkroom or computer to produce those images.

The concepts of previsualization and postvisualization were introduced in 1967 by famed surrealistic photographer Jerry Uelsmann, retired professor of art, University of Florida. He renders his evocative composites in the darkroom. Check his website at

Another postvisualist is John Paul Caponigro. He also renders images that transcend reality, but he uses digital tools, primarily Adobe Photoshop. He describes previsualization, or straight photography,

as single-source photography. He defines postvisualization, or the creation of composites, as multiple-source photography. Go to to see his work.

As a photographer, I am considered a previsualist, as are some of my colleagues whose work you may have seen in Long Island art shows: James Twomey III and John Todaro. You may see their work at and respectively.

One of America’s foremost landscape photographers, Galen Rowell (now deceased), is also considered a previsualist. Check his work at

Each previsualist prints what they see. Their workflow may be a variation of using film and conventional chemical processing; shooting with film coupled with digital scanning and digital processing; or shooting with a digital camera and producing digital prints.

All the above photographers create images that are of the highest technical quality, although they may use different approaches, methods, or tools. I don’t think one approach is better than another. Ultimately, the value of an image rests with you, the beholder. Does the artist’s vision, as expressed in the print, resonate with your senses?