When I was kicking around ideas of what to write for my next blog post, I figured a follow up to Be Better or Be Bitter would be a good place to start. A few people emailed me that although it sounds easy to “be better” it isn’t always simple. I’d love to say that I offered some compassionate words, but instead I shared that although it might not be easy, it also isn’t excessively difficult. The issue is that we, me included, over complicate what is in front of us. A great first step comes when instead of thinking the shot or project is done, is to simply say, not yet.
Every established photographer knows this scenario, you have your vision of how the image should look to best convey the client's message, and the client has a different opinion. So, whose vision do you follow? On one hand, the client is just that, the client. You know, the one paying the bills. On the other hand, you were hired for a reason. When faced with this dilemma, I’ve always followed the strategy of executing their vision first, and then time permitting, my own. The client always made the final call because well, they’re the client. My odds proved pretty good with my vision often preferred. Regardless of the outcome, I know my clients appreciated my taking the time to care about their project. Plus, as an added bonus, this enabled me to better understand how to best support the client.
Whether working as a school professor or visiting presenter, I've frequently witnessed a phenomenon that I never understood. It's the desire to complete one's project as fast as humanly possible and wear the speediness as a badge of honor. Here's how this plays out. A student is allotted a three or four-hour time block to shoot, which might be during class time or open studio hours, to complete a project and miraculously within thirty minutes they've checked out the gear, set up the shot, captured the image, and packed up. I might offer kudos for breaking the sound barrier, but I am not sure what was learned. Isn’t the purpose of school to learn and be better? Didn’t we head down this path because we enjoy photography?
This is where one simply says, not yet; you are not done, yet. My suggestion to students and all photographers is to treat this as your starting point. The notion of getting a completed image swiftly is awesome. This is what I refer to as the "safe" image or perhaps the original idea. The good news is that no matter what follows, you are covered. There is nothing to lose by experimenting and exploring new ideas and much to gain. Try something completely out of your normal character, break all the rules, don’t play it safe, and most of all, have fun. At the end of the time block, they should be kicking you out of the studio, or wherever else you were creating. I’ll bet that when this occurs on a regular basis your odds will be like mine, and recurrently it’s not the first vision that is the best.
One quick parting story
The image that is on the cover of the book, Light Right is not the original version. The original capture and the one that was planned had a cocktail in the foreground with lemons in the background. The shot worked fine, it was safe, but I had time and knew it could be better. I tried different angles, various lenses, creative compositions, different lighting, and at one point became frustrated that it wasn’t getting better; I’ll admit a tad worse. Being frustrated doesn’t benefit the creative process, I elected to walk away and get a quick cup of coffee. Upon returning, I needed to walk from the backside of the set to the front, and there it was, I saw what I needed to capture. The lemons are in the foreground and the cocktail takes second stage, much better. The Apple Tart images at the top of the page is another example of two versions where only one was planned.
It doesn’t really matter whether someone is an established photographer or just getting started, saying not yet, and not settling for the first, or “safe” image offers growth.