Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography?

Kev and Rich’s presentation on the planned approach to image capture was far ranging and very well received. Thank you gentleman for a very informative evening. I look forward to putting this into action at next week’s practical session, not least because I am far more comfortable with the suck-it-and-see approach.  


Now the lucky accident (serendipity to give it its all-dressed-up-going-to-Sunday-Meeting name) plays its part in everyone’s lives, but it’s no way to run a business, even one called Serendipity. Well you’d think so but there is a business strategy based upon it and the idea that when taking over a business there are additional benefits to be found in its way of doing things either in physical or intellectual property beyond that which was originally planned for and made the acquisition attractive. So, as an adjunct rather than a strict contrast I want to use this week’s blog to square the circle a little and hopefully add to Kev’s and Rich’s interesting evening.


Planned serendipity can be applied to photography, in fact I believe it is at the heart of the creative process. In order to support that rather bold statement it is going to be necessary to discuss a little by what I mean by it and see how it might be applied to our shared art. Going out (or staying in) and coming back (or tidying away) with an image to mark and to celebrate is as old as cave painting (where they had the bonus of something to eat too). It is something of a celebration each time we press the shutter release as we have found something in essence that we want to preserve and probably share. To that end we have control over the not just the triangle of exposure (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) but, to some greater or lesser extent, the light. In a studio context this is obvious and, in theory at least, total. Outdoors is a different question, the weather is not under our control, but as we discussed last week, that is not necessarily a question as black and white as it seems. It depends on how you frame the question, making the weather the subject of your image as opposed to a reason for not going forth in the first place. You adapt to the condition to the point where the condition becomes the subject. You take the incidence of the weather and you turn it to your advantage. That is planned serendipity.


It is easy to extend this into a reason not to bother planning, because something will turn up. No way to shoot a wedding where getting the right shot is a result of anticipation and planning (see the blog entry on Dan T’s wedding photography session). The key is to know as much as you possibly can beforehand, get to know your subject and your location. No way to shoot landscape either (consistently), if you are after a particular effect. How can that apply to the outdoors? I touched a little on this last week when I talked about the Photographers Ephemeris (free for Mac or PC, paid for on i-Phone or Android) or using Google Maps and the relevant tables (though if doing this I would go to the Photographers Ephemeris as a default unless the detail and the working out is where the fun is for you). Control what you can control. You might have all the data you need to make that perfect sunset or moonrise in terms of time and geography, the weather forecast may be just so, but you can’t control the cloud that is in the wrong position at the wrong time, obscuring the object of focus (though you can borrow one from another image if you want to add). In that case come back another day. Whatever happens and to quote Napoleon Bonaparte (in translation of course) “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted”, and Kev and Rich’s trip to Iceland certainly proved that. They suggested that whereas the internet is a great resource you need to get your information from at least three different sites. There are smart phone apps that can help with that, on both Android and i-Phone. Know what you are looking for and where best to look for it.


There was the inevitable discussion about RAW v JPEG. This is one that will go on forever and a day. There is nothing wrong with either format. There is more processing latitude  with RAW than there is with JPEG. If you are a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista (I bet you used to shoot transparencies, didn’t you?) then there is not a lot in it. If you can’t get to within + or – 1EV of the desired/ideal/correct exposure then shoot RAW. RAW has more latitude within it, + or – 3 EV. For EV read f-Stop. A change of + or – 1 EV is a change of + or – 1 f-Stop. The bottom line is, at least for me, show me a print and I can’t tell whether it’s a RAW or a JPEG. If you are doing it for love take your pick. If you are of the order of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop, shooting one off photographs for money, determined that your camera is conspiring against you (turn off in camera adjustments), curious or just plain anti then use RAW. Or one of its many variants. Your camera manufacturer has their own version of it. Perhaps you should ignore that bit if you are paranoid about your camera conspiring against you.


That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pre-process (if that is the right word) your image. ND (Neutral Density) filters and ND graduated filters and polarisers both circular and linear were also discussed as part of the process of manipulating light. A price range around examples of Lee, Hitek and Cokin were all mentioned and the relative merits boiled down to the old truism that you get what you pay for, with Mark S’s recommendation that people consider the Hitek IRND for its colour neutrality at half the price of the Lee.  Thanks for the links Mark. What system you choose make sure that there is a match between the filters and the holders that go with them.  


In the planned serendipity video above (link here) James Austin’s book Chase Chance and Creativity is referred to and in it he talks to four kinds of luck.

Firstly, that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”).

Secondly, chance from purposely acting towards a defined end (running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action – it’s a hint), where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.

Thirdly, chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.

Fourthly the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”.


 So is it a case that P.P.P.P.P.P. (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography)?  That might make for a neat conclusion but I think that is to miss the point that Kev and Rich were making and certainly excellently illustrated in their previous talk on Iceland I referred to above. The point is, in this post at least, the more you make happen deliberately the more you have scope to take advantages of what chance presents you. You make your own luck. You plan to make your own luck. Taking your own luck is called Planned serendipity. Thursday, be there, try it out.


Ian G.