Improvisation is a skill that can only be improved with experience. But make no mistake, it is one of the most important skills for a professional photographer. This is true because conditions are always changing and unpredictable situations happen during almost every photo shoot. Even the most prepared photographer will at times have to improvise on the job. We’ll discuss some ways to learn how to improvise.
Just like any other skill, photography is a skill that requires practice to perfect. How does one learn to improvise by practicing? Put simply, they need to put themselves in situations that require improvisation. The photographer needs real-world experience. This can be acquired in a number of ways. For example, portrait photographers need practice taking photos with a subject or model. They can get experience by first inviting their friends out for free photo sessions. These sessions will help the photographer to build a foundation of skills necessary to take on professional work later. As the photographer practices taking photos of their friends, unexpected situations will come up.
What happens if the location starts to get too crowded? Maybe the photographer will switch to a telephoto lens to close the gap to the subject and blur the people in the background. Or maybe the photographer will find a backup location to shoot at and move there. Another common obstacle is the lighting. If the photographer intended to shoot on an overcast day, but it stays sunny all day – what then? The photographer must decide between finding shade or shooting in the bright sun. Next time the photographer will remember to bring a reflector in case the forecast is not accurate. These small adjustments add up over time, and make a big difference when it comes to being prepared and learning to improvise on the fly.
Being able to think outside the box is crucial when things start to go wrong. Did you forget to bring a wide-angle lens for the family portraits? What should you do when you find that you’ve only got 2GB left on your SD card and you forgot to bring a spare? Being able to think on your feet will help you to resolve these issues quickly without frustrating your subjects/clients and wasting their time. Regarding the former issue of not having a wide-angle lens for a group photo, what options do you have? Can you simply back up far enough to capture everyone? If not, it is possible to take two photos and then stitch them together in post-production. Let everyone know that you need them to stand perfectly still and not move, then take the two photos in quick succession.
With the latter issue of only having 2GB left, would it be possible to shoot in a lower resolution? Think about what the clients’ needs are. If they don’t need 20 megapixel photos, then maybe you can lower it to something more appropriate such as 10-12 megapixels. That way, you’ll be able to save a lot more space on your SD card and make the 2GB last much longer. There is almost always a solution or at least a temporary patch to most issues that come up during a photo shoot. Being able to adapt and think outside the box will help you get back to what you do best – taking pictures!
Improvising and being flexible are closely related. For example, let’s say that the client is having their senior portraits taken and they forgot to bring their guitar to the session. Playing guitar means a lot to them and is a big part of who they are. Being flexible means considering all of the possible options. Is it possible to extend the photo shoot in order for the client to go home and pick up the guitar? If their home is too far away for that choice to be practical, maybe the photographer would consider calling the closest guitar shop and explaining the situation? It might be possible that the guitar shop would permit the client to rent or borrow a guitar for a short period of time to have the photos taken. This would be a possible solution.