Our lives are a mix of internal planning and responses to external forces. Of course this holds true in things like romance and business, but you might be surprised to find it’s also true in photography. I did not always understand this. For the longest time I thought photography was mostly about luck and a bit of technical know-how. Personal experience has convinced me otherwise. Yes, good timing does help. Yes, technical know-how is essential. But I have come to see planning and flexibility as one of the photographer’s most valuable skills.
The reason these skills are so essential is because they set the boundaries for our creativity. They will either limit what we can create or set us free to create something amazing. This makes sense if you consider where the creative process begins. In reality, it begins at the planning stage. Long before extending tripod legs or attaching filters you are faced with a decision of when to go, and this decision has a huge impact on the kind of scene you will encounter. The better the planning, the better the chances you will see something worth photographing.
At the same time, no matter how much you plan, you simply can’t control everything. Weather forecasts miss the mark, filters slip and shatter, and sometimes busloads of tourists show up to the spot you were planning to have to yourself. That’s life! So the question from there is, how do you deal with it? How do you respond to these external forces? This isn’t just a question of how to change composition or exposure – it’s also about attitude. Do you get flustered or even angry? Do you mumble to yourself over how unfair it is? Or, do you roll with the punches and see what you can do?
The photo above is an example of what I’m talking about. I planned this trip out with great detail. I knew where and when the sun was going to rise, I had studied the maps and had a list of compositions I intended to try. I got up at 3:25am and drove the hour and a half ride out, giving myself an hour before sunrise to prepare. And then, it was cloudy. The weather forecasts had been mixed but seemed promising. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out like I had hoped. On top of that, the waters were choppy and the tide was in, leading to my feet getting soaked from a huge wave crashing against the rocks. My plans were not falling into place! But I stayed, wet feet and all, and continued working with what I had. And that’s when this scene appeared. For just a few brief minutes the sky lit up with the light of morning and gave me something to work with before clouds covered it up once again. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it was something to work with.
Of course the technical know-how was necessary to make this photo work, but it was the planning and flexibility that really made this shot possible. Though they’re not the kind of skills you can learn from a book, they are invaluable to you if you want to produce beautiful photographic art. Keep them in mind next time you’re planning an outing. Plan well, stay fluid, and happy shooting.
Learn the workflow for this image in my post processing digital workshop! Check it out by clicking here.