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Under pressure and preparing to fail


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Under pressure and preparing to fail

2 Feb 2021 8:32AM   Views : 1783 Unique : 1042


I remember days at work where it just wasnít going well. Iíd planned a major bit of personal work for the day, but a series of Ďphone calls and knocks on the door had left me with five half-written emails and a barely-started procedure document on screen. Then another call, from my boss, asking for an urgent opinion on some crisis that had been brewing for ages, but which nobody had decided to warn me.
It never worked in reverse: said boss had taken the wise precaution of employing a personal assistant to guard her time, even if it meant wasting everyone elseís. And she seemed to like pressure: have you gathered that I donít?

Some people thrive on being given a dayís work to complete by lunchtime: I tend to refer to them as managerial adrenaline junkies. Me? Give me a dayís work and a three-week deadline and after a couple of days to mull it over, I could often sit down and tear through it calmly but completely, in an afternoon. It would have happened more often if PAs had extended a level or two further down the organisation.
Itís the same with photography. Some people want the burn of rushing around to get everything ready at the last minute: my ideal is to have my camera bags packed and lined up the night before, or furniture moved around to accommodate my home studio, and the lights in position. And itís no good setting out at sunrise for that view that looks perfect in first light Ė you need to be up and away before the first signs of dawn in the east.

Preparation and planning matter: and Iíve long realised that the best thing is to keep it really simple at the start. Life always provides complications. I hate having to do things at the last moment, because they can go so wrong. So, in the studio, I make a little time for sorting gear out, making sure that the lights are in the right places, checking the meter readings. Then, when the model steps on set, all we have to worry about is taking pictures.


Colin Prior established his reputation with panoramic shots of the tops of Scottish mountains, taken at dawn. For these, he climbed the hill the day before, and camped on the peak. Camera set up in good time with the framing adjusted, and the only thing to do was keep an eye on the brightening sky, taking regular light readings. With a Linhof 617 and a separate meter, adjustments will have been pretty simple.
These days, we have cameras that are so much easier to use Ė and we can, to some extent, adjust exposure after the event. For a fast-moving subject and changing light levels, it makes perfect sense to use autoexposure: donít put yourself under extra pressure when thereís enough to do framing, focussing and exposing!

One of the things I learned when my children were young was that landscape photography and family outings donít mix. If I wanted to make a serious attempt at photographing something, I needed to go out for a sunset trip, or hand the children over to my wife for an hour or two while I set off on my own.

The secret of success in anything is to take the time that it needs: keep calm and stay on process. Prepare early Ė and this includes, Iíd say, choosing the process that will be robust. Donít set out to do something highly technical (such as the wet-plate process) if you are paying a model a high hourly rate. Try out a new idea on the pavement outside, or in the garden, rather than going out for an unrepeatable event with an untested idea.

As they say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
2 Feb 2021 8:34AM
I'd planned to illustrate this with pictures of a car rally in the Forest of Dean: missed that one, but I found Pinkylou, who, it appears, has everything entirely under control. Serene in the sun, and sensibly suited for the office. Beyond her hair colour, there's no resemblance to any colleagues, ever.
saltireblue Avatar
saltireblue Plus
13 14.8k 92 Norway
2 Feb 2021 9:28AM
Isn't there a saying that planning is 90% of any project? A case of look before you leap, if you will.
And no matter how well you feel you have prepared, always expect the unexpected, and allow time for it to happen.
As much as I detest waiting at airports (remember airports?) I'd rather spend an extra half hour get bored stiff doing that than fretting and sweating in the car, wondering if I will get there in time and regretting not leaving time for unforeseen problems en route.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
2 Feb 2021 9:53AM
Precisely my point, Malc.

A less-known side of planning is to make the plan resilient: anything that depends on fifteen things happening precisely as planned in sequence (or simultaneously) with no room for error is a rather poor plan. When I was still working, the term 'robust' was often used. But not often seen in things people did...
saltireblue Avatar
saltireblue Plus
13 14.8k 92 Norway
2 Feb 2021 10:53AM
I forgot to mention...I like your routine of having everything sorted the night before a shoot - it means you will be able to sleep easier, knowing that everything is ready.
ZenTony Avatar
ZenTony Plus
7 31 7 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2021 12:01PM
Gentlemen I totally agree. I have a friend. We arrange to meet (well in the days it was possible) on the Station to catch a train to London.
I arrive; always, 20-30 minutes before departure, and inevitably my friend arrives running up the stairs just as the train is pulling in, breathless, swearing about traffic, no coins in the car park etc etc.
I don't get it !
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
2 Feb 2021 12:55PM
But things never go entirely to plan...
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
2 Feb 2021 12:58PM
Just before I was to leave junior school we had a talk from a teacher about moving schools. She recommended us to put everything ready the evening before, ready to start the next day. I've always stuck to that.
At least you can plan and prepare as much as you can, which gives more scope for coping with the bungling incompetence of some people you have the unfortunate occurrence to have to work with.
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2021 5:24PM
Beautiful shots of PinkyLou
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
2 Feb 2021 6:45PM
Thanks, Ju.

I've realised that part of the message in the blog is about making sure that whatever your 'workflow' in shooting, you need it embedded deep, so that you don't have to think about it. As they say in the SAS, train hard, fight easy.

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