We’re finalizing plans for an improv class with the current Interns and a few of our Alumni Interns as well. While on the surface it sounds like it makes total sense – and it does – but more than that – it’s an important skill to have in being able to make the best photos no matter the situation.
Leah and I both have backgrounds in theater and although improv class was considerably difficult for me – when I’m on location whether it’s a wedding, an engagement session, or just a portfolio model shoot – it’s all improvisation. When I flew up to Philadelphia for the day to photograph a family – that was 5 hours of improvisation. I had never been to Philadelphia and although I could have done a good bit of internet research, finding locations, looking for shots to make – the best way for me to make the best photos was simply to be fully engaged and in the moment – a cornerstone of ‘improv’.
When a family flies you a thousand miles to photograph them – you’d better be mentally present. It’s the same way with any gig – if you’re not up to the task of getting over your own boredom or lack of interest – then go home. You’re wasting your time or worse – your client’s time and money. The moment I decided I was a professional was the moment that I lost my mind and really started moving over to the side of ridiculously higher standards. Because aside from any talent I may have (or lack of) – I always told myself that if anything – I’ll work harder than that photographer over there, or that one, or You.
I said it after I photographed my first wedding and I still mean it – your photos must look better than any shots the guests make - if they don’t then you should hand over all of the money you were paid.
In the same way there are certain structures and forms to follow during improv exercises or scenes – the same goes for portrait sessions and events. Basically you’re given something – a character & situation – and you have to accept it and ADD to it. This works whether you’re acting out a scene or making photos that tell a story. They’re the same thing.
You’re given ‘things’ to work with and you can either reject them (I’m bored, the light sucks, there’s NO light, the people aren’t comfortable) – or you can accept them and thrive.
Of course the only way to really thrive is to keep making small mistakes. Or flat out failing. And then moving on from there. Whether you make the wrong choice in a scene and all of a sudden it goes off the tracks – or you put your couple in a crazy pose that makes them look horrible. Now you know not to make that mistake again – but it takes making that mistake, or the at least the willingness to make it in order for you to get to the good stuff.
Being able to use those mistakes – whether it’s a funny turn in a scene or all of a sudden when you tell your couple that your idea was ‘Absolutely horrible and they should fire you right now!’ – chances are good that the ‘audience’ will react favorably and this can only help you as you continue on, looking for a better photo or direction.
Deep down your audience and your clients want you to succeed – and they’ll do everything they can to help. You just have to get out of your own head.
I’m not saying don’t prepare – absolutely prepare – but you need to prepare to the point where you can drop everything once you arrive. That’s why you do all of that preparation in the first place – so you can free your mind and be as in the moment as possible.
When I fly into Pomona, CA., or Phoenix, AZ., or Wilmington, NC. – and the clients pick me up at the airport – I’m calm, relaxed, and absolutely okay with whatever they have planned. While I am there to make sure I get the shots – I’m not there to be the dictator of their day – and I don’t think I would be able to be completely relaxed if I didn’t feel comfortable and confident in my improvisation skills – nevermind all of the photography stuff.
The fact is – I’m almost always shooting in the middle of the day with the sun right overhead. Sometimes I get lucky and the shoot will take place in the early morning or late afternoon – but I don’t count on it. What I count on is my ability to make the best photos no matter what I’m given.
Because I will accept and add to whatever I’m given – and that is improv.
It’s not what you’re stuck with – it’s what you’re given. See the difference?
See you tomorrow.
Posted by Mark.