What is Plan B?

The best-laid plans can go awry. It happens to all of us from time to time. You set off to go somewhere, maybe an hour’s drive away, may be further afield for a photo shoot.

It may be a place you’ve been to before and you have some particular images in mind to re-shoot or some fresh ideas. It may be somewhere new to you, and you’ve done a bit of research and got a bucket list of images in mind. You’ve checked the weather, looked at the map, chosen the right gear to take. Planned your timings. You’ve got everything covered – what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is of course, anything and everything can go wrong. The weather forecast is wrong – the sun that was promised has gone AWOL. The light is all wrong. The traffic was snarled up and you were late. You left home too late. Your timing was totally wrong. The car broke down. You got lost on the way. You arrive and it’s a nightmare to find anywhere to park, etc.

So there you are at your chosen place and it’s all gone pear-shaped. Your carefully drawn up plans have gone up in smoke. What do you do? Swear probably…and when you’re done with that, then what? Turn tail and head home? Go off in a bad mood to the nearest bar? Find someone to blame – your wife, husband perhaps for delaying you? No doubt at one time or another some or all of those reactions will ring a bell. Resist those knee-jerk reactions.

How do you get through this? Annoyance, frustration, irritation, negativity, anger perhaps – all those understandable feelings are not conducive to creativity – in fact they are the enemies of it. You need to take a time out. Maybe a half hour in a bar or café to calm down. If you’ve got a newspaper or book with you, it might be a good idea to read for a few minutes. Anything that will help to distract you. Try to wipe your brain clear of the ideas you had.

Then step outside again, take a look around you and think: how can I turn this around? Try to feel positive. Where are the pictures here, now? What is the Plan B? Look at the place with fresh eyes and it will be a rare occasion when you don’t spot the potential for unexpected images. And once you pick up that camera and start to look, images will come to you.

In January a couple of years ago, we set off for Ivinghoe Beacon – it’s a forty-five minute drive away. It’s a favourite high point that we regularly visit. The sun was shining and in my mind’s eye I was seeing long shadows spreading across the valley floors around the hill.  By the time we arrived, and got to the top of the hill, the sun was still there in the sky, but a nearby wooded ridge meant that the valley floor was in deep shadow. I had misjudged the sun’s trajectory. Too late was the cry!

I was relatively calm although frustrated; there would be other opportunities, but it was still an hour and a half of driving for no results. I decided to step off the hill and walk the long way back to the car. A couple of minutes walking and I turned round to look back up to the ridgeline and saw images. The silhouettes of people out walking in the late afternoon sun. Something totally different from anything I had ever seen at this place.

_DSC1498_wpThe next half an hour flew by as I shot image after image – some of the best I have taken at that place. I went home happy. The strange thing is that if I had just walked back off the hill down the usual path I would have missed these pictures completely.

_DSC1513_1Always think – what and where is Plan B? You may be surprised by the results.

12 thoughts on “What is Plan B?

  1. Great advice Andy. Given the amount of traveling I do, it is hard to anticipate everything that can go wrong. I used to get frustrated but I now understand that it is part of the journey. I recently published a long exposure shot of water flowing over the rocks in the rain because the shot I wanted (a lighthouse out on an island) was pretty bad. In the past, I might have got back in the car and moved on. Your determination to get another shot resulted in a terrific photo.

    • Thanks Len. I really like the shot you referred to in your comment. I think the longer we remain ‘in the game’ as photographers the more philosophical we become – we expect obstacles and problems and we learn to work round them. And sometimes, as possibly in the case I highlighted, we end up with something far better than we expected to capture.

  2. Good advice, Andy. I was on a 4 day trip to New Hampshire last year and it rained all four days. I think I got some good shots in between downpours but I definitely had to rethink my strategy. It pays to prepare for any eventuality.

  3. Reading your post and the other comments here Andy, if you stay calm and collected, you may not come home with the shot you set out to get, but perhaps, if you’re lucky and give yourself some space, you might just come home with a better one. These are super images.

    • Thanks Adrian. Very true. I think the secret sometimes is to just let go of any agenda that one has and allow one’s eye to find the images with no pre-conceptions. That sounds counter-intuitive I know but I’ve read some very good posts on this aspect of ‘Seeing’ from Otto von Munchow who writes so well about creativity.

  4. What excellent advice. It could probably be applied to nearly every outing I have. Only very rarely does plan A work, which probably means that I haven’t planned well enough, or I have made too many compromises.

    • Thanks for the comment Dave. I reckon Plan A fails more than 50% of the time. I think we can over-plan and prepare too much sometimes, and the downside to that is that we can get very frustrated when things don’t pan out the way we thought they should or would.

  5. Great images, Andy….and how true about a plan B. Or maybe no plan, but just trying to turn around what could be a bad situation. I recently went out to get some images of mist hovering over water…..except that it didn’t that day because it wasn’t quite cold enough. But instead, I got a backlit image of a chap standing by the lake, and his exhaled breath was nicely visible against the dark background. Someone once said to me, always look behind you if you don’t like what you see in front- that’s worked sometimes as well.

    • I loved that image of yours of the man exhaling on a cold morning. The idea of looking behind us is so true, Sue. Things always look different looking back. And the silhouettes I spotted were really the consequence of looking behind me when I did, before I had moved too far and the sun was lost behind the ridgeline.

  6. Demanding that the world conform to our expectations is an iffy proposition at best. I suppose a professional photographer with commissions or a photographer with a specific project in mind will begin with certain expectations — not to say goals. But life happens, as they say, and serendipity can be a wonderful thing. Well, and flexibility.

    I think that flexibility, the ability to respond to what “is,” when it differs from what we’ve hoped will be, is important for every sort of creative endeavor. When I went off to the Rio Frio for my week, I went specificially to take some photos at a particular place, for a particular post I wanted to write when I came home.

    When I saw the river and the cypress, and saw my photos once I got home, everything I had been planning to do went on the back burner, while I delved into the history of the town, and wrote an entirely different piece. It’s different for a photographer, of course, because you can’t set aside a moment and come back to it later. But even in the midst of frustration, we need to keep our eyes open. The world has more to offer than we can imagine.

    • That’s a great comment, Linda – thank you so much. I have read of professional photographers who will keep going back to a place until they get the image that they want – one is a Scottish landscape photographer who will go high and bivouac overnight simply to get the sunrise picture of a range of mountains. I don’t have that dedication. I enjoy more the idea of making what I can of any given situation – yes, I will nearly always have a bucket list of images I hope to find, but I’m more interested in the challenge of finding something different. I think it appeals to the maverick within me.

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