No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
– Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke
Every few months I have to shoot a couple of months worth of magazine covers for our various parenting magazines. These shoots almost universally involve taking photos of kids, from newborns to about 10-year-olds. Kids…they bring a unique set of challenges.
Magazine covers need to pop more, need a extra over the inside images, and are worth, because they’re the first thing anyone is going to see who might decide to pick-up our magazines. So we put in the extra work to make the photos work better. We rent studios, we scout locations.
So on Monday of last week I was supposed to shoot a cover, it fell apart due to rain. The idea was to have a very fall (the season) photo. We were thinking fall colors. Since the shoot fell apart and I was already at the location I figured I’d spend the time location scouting. (I had already planned two hours in before the original shoot to scout, but as the reschedule was for 8am, I figured I’d do it at that point in the rain because I wouldn’t have time before the reschedule.)
So I go out, hunt locations with my assistant, look for good trees, take test shoots and notes. On Sunday the group of us get there, go to our location and start shooting. The trees have changed a bit, so there’s some on the fly adapting, but that’s normal. We shoot for about 3 minutes, make some changes, basically just get some test shots done, get ready to start again, and the subject, a 2-year-old girl, just falls apart. She’s done. This is shockingly normal.
At this point the other person from the office and I decided we needed a change of venue, namely some place where we would have something for the subject to play with. With kids, when in doubt, distract them from whatever is making them unhappy, usually by giving them something to play with. Actually, this works with adults also, but we won’t talk about that.
We went over to the Children’s Play Area. We found a spot, we went with it, we made it work. At the end of the day the hours of prep work amounted to 3 minutes and about 30 frames of return. I find that this actually about normal.
Which raises a question, why still do it?
It still surprises me how little the planning helps directly, and how much of a difference it makes. There is something about the planning process, it sorts the thoughts, it creates a structure, a framework to hang the rest of the shoot off of. It’s like the steel framework of a building. It doesn’t tell you what the final building will look like, but a good framework will is vital to building a strong building no matter what the final structure is.
The part of the process where we have meetings, it gets everybody on the same page, it gets ideas out there, and it gets communication started. Again, it creates a framework so when we start improvising we’re improvising towards the same goal, improvising starting from the same page. And in the end, we get a better product the better prepared we are. I’m sure that the planning would be even more valuable if we had subjects that didn’t bring a high level of unpredictability.
As it is, it makes all the difference in the world.
P.S. Oh, and if you wonder what I do when the child is crying. I check my exposure, look for new compositions, and laugh, sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud, and fidget some too.
P.P.S. And yeah, I like the later ones much better also.
P.P.P.S. And if anyone knows why blogger isn’t pulling up the full resolution image and seems to be pulling a lower res version than what I’m giving it, I’d appreciate the help. I love Goggle, but sometimes they do some wacky things I don’t get. These are tack sharp, or should be. Ugh.
I wish I could remember the number of times a photojournalist has told me to not focus on shooting for the office, for the paper and instead shoot what I want to shoot. I’m okay at this, not great, but okay.
So recently I acquired a phone with a camera and text messaging (my previous phone I bought around 99′ and at that point was fancy because it was digital. This new phone will hereafter be referred to as the “iWife”.) This has resulted in me texting all day long. It’s like swapping notes in class.
Somehow in the mix of all this I got to talking to a friend who lives in the desert these days about fall colors, and started sending photos taken with my iWife of fall colors, and now other random things, mostly with greenery. Reminders of leaves.
The funny thing is about this, I tend to like more of the photos I take with my iWife than with my other cameras. There is something about doing it for someone, doing it for fun, doing it for myself which makes it more rewarding.
At first when I made those images I didn’t put much work into them, point the iWife and push the button. As I’ve done it more I’ve started putting more effort into the images, why make a crappy image when I don’t have to? Why isn’t this photo for a friend as important as any other photo? Why isn’t it more important?
It’s fun. It’s really out of my norm. It’s not the kind of camera I like. It doesn’t give me the control I like. No shutter speed, no ISO, no white balance, no place for me to decide, for me to decide anything and while that encourages laziness, there is no reason I need to be lazy about the images. No room to crop later. Just shoot it, and send it right from the phone. Imperfect everytime and the better for it.
Now, mind you, the photos don’t have to fit a story or purpose like my stuff for the paper so they tend to be more “pretty pictures”. They tend to be images that will mean something to me and my friend, nothing more, but in that, I think they mean more than a lot of the other images I make.
Kind of sad that all my work can’t mean as much, but I’m proud that some of it does.