The Importance of Preparation (Sort of)

I’ve long been a believer in being really prepared for my photography assignments. Whatever I may be shooting, I want to have gone over the whole plan in my mind ahead of time, I want to have visualized the shots I plan to make, and I want to make sure I’m prepared for every eventuality. But there’s something else I do too: I make sure I’m ready to abandon my plan on a moment’s notice when necessary. And it’s almost always necessary.

Sometimes you have to abandon your plan because things change. The sun you were counting on was hidden behind clouds, or the colorful outfit the model was supposed to wear is actually all black, or maybe the subject simply decided they didn’t particularly care for your concept. Whatever the reason, there’s almost always something that goes wrong (I’m a big believer in Murphy’s Law, after all) and causes you to change your plans.

But even when things go right, and you’re not absolutely forced to change your plan, there still might be a reason to go in another direction: What if something better comes along?

I’ve encountered this situation plenty: should I do what I intended, or should I take this new opportunity that’s arisen? I was speaking with celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith recently when he told me the importance he places on the same mantra: have a plan, but be flexible. After all, he says, what if something better than you ever imagined comes along? Are you going to stubbornly do something lesser simply because you planned on it?

“Go into every situation with a plan,” Smith advised me, “but be ready to throw that plan away in a heartbeat when something better presents itself. It’s absolutely great to think about what you want to do, visualize an image you want to do, but do not be so locked on that vision that you overlook something much better that’s presenting itself. If you realize that something else is ten times better, don’t overlook that. It’s a very difficult thing, because we all want to go in with a plan, and you feel like you’re so invested in that. But at the end of the day, what creates the best picture? Whether it’s something that I plotted out for a week, or if it’s something that presented itself in the midst of the shoot, wherever a great idea comes from, that’s what you’re going to be remembered for. And you don’t want to be so locked into a plan that you miss that opportunity.”

The shot pictured here is the result of exactly that sort of openness to spontaneously trying something new. This photo shoot had been about fitness; The young model was running, jumping, stretching… But then, as we were preparing to move to something new, I noticed her standing there checking her phone, beautifully backlit and with a spontaneous fill light from my white car. All of a sudden, a whole different direction appeared. We went with it, even though it had absolutely no relation to the original plan. And the shots turned out great—even though they were nothing like I’d planned.

So the next time you’re prepping for a photo shoot, don’t forget to prepare for unprepared. When something better presents itself, go for it!

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