Preparation, Experimentation, And Practice

So I'm heading out to the highway. I got nothing to lose at all. I'm gonna do it my way. Take a chance before I fall A chance before I fall! Judas Priest

I have written before about the importance of play and experimentation. I have also written a bit about something a bit more pedantic which I will use the word practice to describe. Practice is also part of preparation. In truth both my sense of play and practice ultimately are components of preparation just as much as gear selection, schedules, etc.

I myself am a horrid editor of images I shoot, edit as in selecting which ones I like, don't like, etc. This is even before my absolute uselessness of picking out one particular image treatment once I even know which ones I like. Heck I shot the session illustrated at the top six whole months ago and I still flip flop back and forth as to which ones I like out of dozens I shot during the half hour. Forget which one I like the best. Every time I go through them if I were to pick the top dozen it changes. Does this mean they are all great or that there isn't a top ten at least? No. It means I am a horrible self editor. I know this about myself so I don't put too much effort into beating myself up about it. When it counts I have someone help me that I trust and that "gets" what I am going for after I explain it. That's a post for another day.

Bringing this back on point… the image at the top happens to be this particular run-through's favorite. It consistently has been in my top dozen. It's one of those ones that I like but I don't know why. I shot two variations of this image. They are identical or so close it doesn't matter. I definitely would not have been able to shoot this with any intent inside the entire half our session of messing with slow shutters had I not done the practice prior to showing up. There are way too many things to be paying attention to and dealing with when you have real live subjects to start from scratch in terms of having some practice under your belt doing remotely similar things.

I'm sure a bunch of you know exactly how I shot this. For those that don't here's the deal. I shot it at the same slow shutter speed - 1/8 second - that I shot the rest of the session with. Instead of timing the motion of the subject with a static camera I asked the subject to remain static and made the camera move. Specifically I panned the camera from about 90 degrees to the left while shooting. Obviously the shutter was not open during the full 90 degree sweep. Along with all the other practice I described to determine what shutter speed I was going to shoot at I spent a long time - probably longer than this whole session - practicing panning the camera at 1/8 second to produce this effect.

With my particular timing and reflexes and age etc. That 90 degree arc at a certain speed (fast) and releasing the shutter perceptually "right after" I started the motion was the ticket. I practiced until I had the feeling I could nail what the subject I was targeting 100% of the time. In real life I knew that this would not translate with a real human subject - I was hoping for more like 50% of the time of getting what I intended. I got lucky here the two shots I made like this turned out the same. Oh forgot one thing for the detail aware/oriented - the fabric, why does that look so cool? Well I had a fan on the ground pointing up to blow it around vs just hanging there in a thin little nothing… Why does the lateral blur go both ways instead of just one? Well that's the little jerk at the end where I come to "rest". Why did I practice so much? First I am a control freak - second I wanted the blur to be less than the static part of the image. For me this amounted to the 90 degree arc, shooting right after that quick pan started, and stopping right on the subject. All the speeds/timing where based on me to get the major part of the 1/8 second to bias most of that where I stopped.

This kind of practice and also play are pretty important things. Will it all work out… probably not but even when you practice some technique making nothing pictures so you can reliably do the same thing for making less nothing pictures and you play it all adds up to your collective preparation - and confidence. It also contributes to the most important thing - ideas. Let's call this macro level preparation as a whole. I practiced a very very specific thing so I was prepared for some very specific play on a specific day. Now both of those things - the practice and that play have contributed to my preparation for this little trip to DC.

Now comes the hard part for me. Typically I will have everything with exactly what I am going to shoot with which particular subject all laid out down to excruciating detail. Why? Previous life experience, um ability to deliver a particular product for a particular purpose, my nature, etc. Because even when you do that - there are plenty of things to figure out that weren't accounted for - or couldn't be. This time I am not doing any of those things. I have a mishmash of ideas in my head - possibilities if you will. All of those are related to some personal projects that I have been very slowly dipping my toe into for the last year. Some of them are things I gave up on years ago. Does this mean I am unprepared. In one way yes in another way it's a different kind of preparation. Mostly because for the projects that have been rattling around my head the kind of preparation I am used to and makes me comfortable is the nemesis for what I am trying to do.

The one thing I want to leave you with here is that there is always a balance. Practice, play, all of the elements of preparation - the long term things that come from practicing many things. Playing with intent for experimental things. Shorter term instance specific preparation. It all adds up and contributes to your overall ability to execute ideas - it even plays into what ideas you have. Even if it fails miserably it's worthwhile. There will be something that comes out of it - something valuable. The important part is to actually do it. Try it different ways. Be resilient. Be aware of what was a failure of execution or ability to execute vs what is a bad idea. Even bad ideas will lead to good ones - or somewhere else.

I have said this more than a few times. The tech part of this photography thing is not the hard part. Is it important? Absolutely to varying circumstantial degrees. Does some of it take a little time and effort to sort out? Sure - what doesn't. The hard part is mental. Especially when you fail - that's really hard but important. I can say to you that you must embrace failures - that's easy to say and it's also true but it's hard to figure the specifics of how to do that when the failures are real - and they are yours. The giant obstacle that you definitely must get over is confidence. If you are at a place where you are not confident enough to risk failure you must get there otherwise you will be really stuck. I've been there - partly a personality flaw, partly something that's just human.

The reason for all of this long-winded post is just this. I know over preparation on the details of the couple of projects I am working on for myself right now is the enemy of what I am trying to communicate with them. One of my strengths is planning and execution and contingency. The ability to deliver something that has been spec'd out and agreed on. Throwing that part to the wind is a mental challenge for me but required. Does that invite a certain type of failure? For sure but not getting rid of that will ensure I don't make what I want to make for these projects. Does that mean that nothing, no technique, no practice, to competency at all will get me the result I want - absolutely not. It all adds up - it's all preparation in a macro sense. Sometimes the mental part is chucking out things you are good at that are detractors for what you want to achieve. You figure out why.

Food for thought. Hope it helps at least one person. For the rest of you - entertainment to see a tiny bit of the way my mis-cut gears grind.

RB

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