No Plan Survives


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.



3 Responses to “No Plan Survives”

  1. Zeepdoggie & GringO says:

    Eisenhower, who didn’t like the guy your title quotes, said something strikingly similar to your comments. When asked about all the “wasted” money and time that went into the plan of D-Day, Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless; planning is essential.”

    I guess that somehow got him elected.

  2. Sarah says:

    aww. kids. *barfs*. no…but seriously. kids are cute…when they’re…sleeping…

    sorry you won’t be there tonight. i shall miss you and look forward to seeing you soon. hopefully you haven’t fallen into a ravine somewhere.

  3. Peter says:

    Yes, but Josh it’s the elder Moltke your quoting here not his nephew, who assumed the plan’s survival and brought about the Somme stalemate………

    ….just saying is all……..

    …..though I agree that the planing is a necessity but all targets end up being moving.

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