Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jazz Band

Recently I have become a groupie of my son’s jazz band. I have watched these very young musicians go from performance to performance. Sometimes they create musical magic and some evenings I want to cover my ears.

We tend to think that photography is a visual art. We end up with an object that we look at. This final object is fixed. Once there, it does not change. But photo shoots I believe are much more akin to performance art than visual art. We gather a group of creative people; they work together and hopefully produce some magic.

The difference between my son’s young quintet and my work is that on my shoots we must always produce magic. There is no room in advertising photography for “off” days, mediocre performance or uninspired playing. So how do we guarantee that all days are great days? I believe it comes down to planning, flexibility and ambition.

Planning starts with a through understanding of the project. I find it helps not only to see the layouts but also to hear the strategy behind the layouts. That way if changes need to be made on the set, I can always compare the visuals with the strategy to make sure we are doing the right thing. By planning I am referring to casting, propping, location scouting and all the astetic considerations that can make a shoot wonderful. Good planning means that the logistics of a shoot are as well thought out as the concepts.

Flexibility is important because even with the best planning, problems and opportunities may arise. Problems are everywhere and can usually be overcome. Opportunities are rarer but offer the greatest rewards. Often time, on shoots, an art director or photographer discovers something that is different than the layout but actually tells a much better story. The issue becomes, does the creative team have the time, the resources and the power to follow this new visual idea? If flexibility is part of the planning and you know the strategy behind the layout, that answer can often be yes.

Watching my son’s band rehearsals, their blind ambition and determination to get better, reminds me of my student days, days when I would spend hours staring at my work, trying to understand it and how to make it better. When one acquires a certain level of mastery it is easy to forget about the power of determination and ambition. Visual success often comes so easily and the pressures of time and budget can seem to force a shoot to keep moving on to the next scene. If making that truly magic photograph is the goal, ambition and determination are needed to make sure that every detail of the plan is complete. Ambition and determination also help to recognize and seize that opportunity to truly make magic. The successful photograph depends on planning, flexibility and ambition.

This spring has been a very busy one for us. We have recently completed projects for Proctor and Gamble, PNC, and Shire. 


Zave Smith

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