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Planning Versus Spontaneity

This isn't universally true but is often the case. Good images come from a combination of two factors, what the photographer planned to be that way and what just happened to be but the photographer recognized its potential.

It's a nice day, so you go out shooting somewhere. You pack your gear based on what you think you'll need for the trip. By the time you arrive at your destination, you have a plan for how things should go, or at least for how you hope they will work out. Some of us go out with plans that are very detailed, while others tend to fly more by the seat of their pants. Few of us go out without any plan at all though. It's human nature.

But sometimes the unexpected or unanticipated happens. To one degree or another, it often does in fact. Whatever the variance is from your expectation may or may not affect your day of course, but it might. It's bound to happen sooner or later. Not everything can be controlled despite the fact that some of us wish they could. Recognizing this is important if you want to avoid disappointment.

It's an interesting dynamic. To consistently get the best images you can, there's basically a tug of war going on. In one sense, you have to follow the motto of being prepared. In another sense, you have to let go of your preparedness. For photography in the great outdoors, not everything can be controlled, but failure to plan can actually be dangerous in cases of extreme weather, at least some creatures of the wild, or even just the frustration of getting temporarily lost.

Perhaps this is a case of there being two sides to every coin, but since we all try so hard to get good images it's worth taking a moment out to consider how this works. If you go out shooting and stay strictly to what you have prepared for, you'll miss the spontaneity of what simply "happens." If, on the other hand, you remain totally open to whatever comes your way you are unlikely to actually get images of much of that spontaneity since you will be unprepared for it. Clearly both sides of this coin are needed.

Some people are natural planners, attempting to control every aspect of their lives. They live and die by checklists and schedules. Other folks hate that sort of thing and "take life as it comes." Those who plan too much can be accused of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Not planning enough risks accusations of Attention Deficit Disorder. As in life, so to in photography. Never doing anything spontaneously results in a dull and boring life. Doing everything spontaneously can be a bit too exiting and flirts with chaos. As they say, failing to prepare is the same thing as preparing to fail. Sanity and success lies somewhere between the two extremes.

What I at least try to do is to have a general plan for what I intend to shoot but to let go of most of it once I arrive at my shooting location. When I'm at home, I check times for sunrise and sunset, low tide, the weather forecast, and every other relevant detail I can. But once I get there, I tend to let go of most of that planning. At that point, the reality in front of me influences my actions more than all that planning. But without that planning I never would have been prepared enough to be comfortable letting go. I can't profess to always be successful in this approach, but I know from hard earned experience that sticking too close to either extreme means that I will miss a lot of good images.

The Irish playwright and author Oscar Wilde is quoted as having said "Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art." The man clearly had a way with words. I wonder if he was interested in photography?

Date posted: September 20, 2015


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