Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Response to Perfectionism, Planning, and Improvisation

Got an email from a workshop photographer about learning impasses.

My photography is at an impasse. My last three photo shoots were expensive failures and I feel I have plateaued creatively. Each shoot was well-planned, but a combination of inexperienced models, a failure to properly articulate my goals, and the pressure from my perfectionist tendencies conspired to produce poor results.

I think many photographers reach this same plateau and either fail to push forward or languish in mediocrity. I want to reach the next level and hope you can help me during our time together. Here are my strengths, photographically, I feel:

· Shoot planning
· Model interaction
· Retouching
· Technical ability

Here are my weaknesses:

· Too demanding of myself/perfectionist
· Unable to illicit the best work from my models
· Lack creative vision
· Inability to adjust quickly when initial concepts fail to work

I am hoping you can help me take my photography to the next level and I can reinvigorate my creativity. Hopefully, you can assist me in creating portfolio quality work and provide me with constructive criticism. I am a very good student and will fully value your time. I am convinced you will find just the right model for me that day and I will learn a lot from you. I am sure I will learn ways to push forward through my plateau and create better quality images. Please know that I am not trying to copy your style, but incorporate a bit of your style into mine. I strive to create something inspiring and original.

Here's my response:

Your pictures are technically great. Your retouching is definitely above average. I gather that you're busy enough with "real life" that you have limited availability for photography and therefore try to maximize your "ROI". But your perfectionism and "will to control" and seriousness (all of which I suffer to a certain extent) are holding you back from getting to the next level.

Now that's not the only thing holding you back. Your limited availability in this field means you don't have the luxury of shooting randomly (and thus learning organically via trial and error) which only adds to the pressure to perform and deliver. Some of your greatest strengths are also going to be (or result in) your greatest weaknesses. For example, great pre-production planning means that your "script" is set. A "set script" does not allow for as much interpretation and certainly not as much improvisation. Your technical eye, which I have no doubt is acutely developed, can overpower the other potential perspectives that might lend themselves to more evocative images... particularly the more artistic perspectives.

How do I know these things? I know these things because I am these things. We come from similar molds, you and I. We're challenged in the same way, only I have had the luxury (read: time) to find ways to overcome these learning impasses.

And you're absolutely right. Not only do many photographers reach these plateaus but they reach them and don't realize that they've plateau'd and/or can not articulate the specific challenges they face. As I learned by watching G. I. Joe as a child, "...knowing is half the battle".

Here are a few good reads that I strongly suggest. These ideas will not only set the foundation for our private workshop but also the Master Class I'm teaching on the 21st-22nd.


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