Help Your Clients See the Final Product with Visualization Exercises

Before we jump right into the exercises, let’s review the definition of visualize:


v. vi·su·al·ized, vi·su·al·iz·ing, vi·su·al·iz·es

1. To form a mental image of; envisage: tried to visualize the scene as it was described.

2. To make visible.

Why is visualization so important in the photography industry? Because one of the biggest hurdles we encounter is trying to explain an idea to a client and have them see, or visualize, exactly what we're describing, whether it's a specific shot that supports a campaign, the overall concept of a campaign, or the small details that reside within a photograph that make the shot moody or exciting. There are many tools to support concepts, but rarely is a client able to see what the final image will look like three weeks before the shoot.

However, with communication and visualization being such key pieces of the early stages of a project, I thought this exercise could be a great practice tool. Putting ourselves in the clients’ shoes will help us hone our vocabulary, our descriptions and our overall communication abilities. So let’s get started.

Now, as I describe these images, remember that this is only a practice exercise. Nobody will have the exact same image in their mind at the end, but if the descriptions below put you in the same ball park, both the communicator and the visualizer have achieved a common goal.

Sit back, eliminate any surrounding distractions, and tap into your imagination.


This shot will fit into a vertical orientation. The shot's subject is a skateboarder performing a kick flip on his skateboard. He's approximately three feet off the ground. His arms are outstretched to maintain balance during this display of agility. He's a typical skater-looking guy in his mid-twenties, Caucasian, with four-day scruff on his face. He has black plugs in his ears and is wearing skinny black jeans and a white t-shirt with a cool artful design on the front. The only visible color is the bright red Chuck Taylors on his feet and a little bit of flesh tone on his arms and face. The rest of the shot is completely grayscale with dark, rich blacks. Very moody. The scene takes place on the side of the road. With a low camera angle, you're looking up into the ominous clouds and can see a mess of power lines that drift off into the background. He’s performing his kick flip next to a dilapidated rusty metal guardrail, and behind the guardrail is a rickety chain-link fence with barbed wire across the top. You can also see smoke stacks in the background. As far as lighting goes, the only light in the whole scene is a harsh street light glowing directly down onto the subject with some minimal end of day natural light breaking through the clouds in spots.

Now take a minute to re-read the description above and really focus. If necessary, rearrange the details. Some people prefer dropping the subject into a scene, and others prefer building a scene around the subject. Use whichever method works for you. Once you have a solid visual in your mind, scroll down and see if the image you visualized matches what I described.

Black and white image of a skateboarder 

How'd you do? Was the image what you imagined?

Let's try another one. This is phenomenal practice for both the communicator and visualizer.


This shot will fit into a horizontal space. We are in what seems to be a prominent lawyer’s messy office. The desk is centered in the space, but the shot is not wide enough to see the whole width of the desk. On either side of the desk, yellow binders and manila folders are stacked about a foot and a half tall, maybe even taller. The shot is very symmetrical, with the folders stacked on the outside edge of the frames. Behind the folders, softer in the background, are two dark wood bookcases filled with leather-bound law journals and encyclopedias. The subject is in the center of the frame. He is a Caucasian man in a white button-down shirt and a red tie knotted at his neck. He’s holding and reading a folder so intently that his face is partially obscured. The red tie plays well off the yellow wall behind him, visible between the bookcases. While he's holding the folder in front of his face with his left hand, he's failing miserably at pouring himself a cup of coffee with the right. The coffee he's attempting to pour is completely missing the cup and spilling all over the legal pad calendar on the desk’s surface. The coffee puddle is slinking toward the front of his desk and will soon be running off the edge like a waterfall. This will be a mess.

Image of man over pouring coffee onto his desk. 

How'd you do on this one? We’d love to hear if what you envisioned matched the images in the comments below.

Remember, communicating with your client before the shooting begins is one of the most important steps of the entire process. Use these simple exercises to polish your communication skills; they will help determine whether your next shoot goes flawlessly or ends in crisis!