Planning Vs. Preparedness - Part II

I am off on another little road trip/train trip back to DC this coming week. I certainly didn't think I would be going back so soon but it just came up. I have the time. I'm going. Last trip was quite absolutely with no plan. Of course the usual minimum requirement of actual logistics of getting from here to there was obviously in need of some sort of plan. When I discuss planning in the photographic sense I am referring to the degree to which the actual shots I am going to make are pre-visioned, laid out and in the bag before I ever start.

As a level set just so I am not misconstrued, I am all about planning. It's a really good idea for the most part. I you know what you are going to make, how to make it, what it has to look like, how it's going to be lit, what the set/setting/location is what/who the subject is, how they are going to be portrayed, what feel you are going for, what colors are going to be dominant, down to what shoes they are going to wear and what time of day it will be (or needs to look like) your chances of making that image will be far greater than if you just show up with your camera.

If you are really bad at this and everything you've ever made is sort of an accident with a lot of wasted time not making anything you may want to do a bit of the opposite of what I am going to talk about here. My personal strength is in the production end of things. The creativity happens up front before I the actual picture taking ever happens. Of course there is some creativity in overcoming obstacles that can't be planned for, nasty surprises, actually achieving what was in my head and on paper. The problem for me lies in the more I narrow it down before I make anything the less likely it will vary from that. Of course I make variations and take advantage of opportunities but those are all within a fairly narrow window.

Last time I went on my no-plan trip I had no notion of what I was going to make. I worked with a couple people I have never met and never seen. I had no lighting equipment and no idea where I was going to be making images or what it looked like. I showed up with my camera. Shockingly I think I actually made a few images that will find a home in one of my personal projects that I have been working on since early this year. I actually have three personal projects that I have started and continue to work towards. Each of them conceptual. Each of them somewhat challenging for me. Not in any technical way but all of them challenge my ability as a visual communicator for sure. Each of them take a lot of shooting to end up with anything that will actually work - not as a stand alone picture but within the context of each of those three projects.

I didn't plan the shots out to any degree beforehand. I didn't even know I was going to be working on any of those projects. It certainly wasn't an agenda item. I was however prepared to make them when the opportunity presented itself. I was mentally prepared in the sense that I had a clear idea of each of those three projects I referenced needed to accomplish and the general approach and ingredients for each one. I also was prepared from a technical point of view - I knew my gear, I was comfortable handling the cameras and lenses, I knew how they reacted so I wasn't simultaneously trying to figure out how any particular little bits and pieces actually worked. I know that sounds a little obvious but I am constantly surprised at how unfamiliar a lot of photographers are with the stuff they are using in various circumstances.

I am all for experimenting with cameras, and gear, and settings, just about anything but it's really not a good idea to be doing that when you have a subject in front of the camera that counts. I shoot a lot of StupidCrap™. I advocate you do the same if you plan on using a particular piece of gear, some thing that your camera does you haven't actually played with before, etc. This is especially important when you get something new. This is technical preparedness. Heck I have been shooting Nikon cameras since the dawn of time.

When I got my D600 I shot a heck of a lot of StupidCrap™ with it so I was intimately familiar with exactly how ever single thing I was going to use that the camera did worked and how it reacted. Same with the Fuji X100. Everything from developing some sort of muscle memory for various settings and controls to how far I can push highlights in RAW before they turn to shit. This is technical preparedness. Even very experienced photographers can experience some massive failures in the heat of the moment due to a lack of familiarity with a particular piece of gear and not enough time manipulating it. I have seen the results of it time and time again. I've experienced it myself. It's not a failure of intellectual understanding of what amounts to fairly simple things - just different. It's not like it's rocket science to use any particular function but you would be amazed when out in the field how much greater the chances are that you are going to screw up with things are fast and furious if you have spent a bunch of time doing the same exact thing you are trying to do fast and reliably.

That brings us back to balance of planning vs preparedness. For myself I treated them with equal levels of attention in the past. For what I am trying to accomplish at this point preparedness is taking on a much greater role relative to planning down to the last detail what shot I am actually going to take away. In fact for two out of the three projects I am working on too much specific planning can in many ways be detrimental to the results I achieve on any given session. Too much planning on one of those project absolutely inhibits achieving the results I am after. Too much planning in someways inhibits what that particular project is about and creates circumstances where there is almost no way I am going to make the pictures I want. Best case it turns any particular work session for that project more likely that I will only make images that fit with the project by accident - sounds funny huh almost contradictory but trust me - I have made images in the past in the middle of a locked down production that would fit in that project and they were completely by accident. Wrong environment, wrong circumstances - not conducive for what I am after.

On this trip I am shooting with three subjects. Two of the subjects I have worked with successfully in the past. One is new. This trip is specifically to work on two of the three projects I have been talking about. Most likely it will be one but I am open to the possibility that I may have the opportunity to work on the second as well. Since I do have intent on this trip I am actually traveling even lighter than last time. Two cameras, two lenses and that's it.

In terms of a plan I do have a general schedule as to what day and generally what time I will be working with each subject. I know one location where I will be shooting but am open to using some others as well. I am going down a day early to scout the area. I do know what each of the projects I have intent to work on needs to communicate but I don't have some sort of inventory as to what each and every image in that project needs to look like to any degree and I have some ideas about where I will go with images on this trip but that's the degree of plan I am going with.

If you made it this far down the post I do have a little idea that I am going to try. You are welcome and encouraged to participate. I am going to try sharing publicly the work-product on one of my personal projects as I go, as the project evolves. Not the finished product. Not even a curated group of images I intend on actually using. More like digital contact sheets of the RAW material I produce for that project. I have always been fascinated by other photographers work process and enthralled with seeing what else they shot before and after a particular select. It's part of my obsession with contact sheets. When I see one picture I am always curious as to what else was shot at that same time right next to what ended up being the pick.

If any of you would like to participate in this little journey - not for all of the projects - just one. Get in touch with me via email. I will be opening this up in two ways - publicly via a web contact sheet and also a iCloud photostream that is accessible with EXIF info, etc on any iOS device. More info soon on this.


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