on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Planned Productions

And the Unplanned Experience

Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US. Website Flickr

Here, then, is the beginning of a vicious circle. Because “beautiful” poems make the poet beloved, a great quantity of poems come into the world that attempt nothing except to be beautiful, that pay no heed to the original primitive, holy, innocent function of poetry. These poems from the very start are made for others, for hearers, for readers. They are no longer dreams or dance steps or outcries of the soul, reactions to experience, stammered wish-images or magic formulas, gestures of a wise man or grimaces of a madman—they are simply planned productions, fabrications, pralines for the public. They have been made for distribution and sale and they serve to amuse or inspire or distract their buyers. So just this sort of poem finds approval. One does not have to project oneself seriously and lovingly into such poems, one is not tormented or shaken by them, rather one sways comfortably and pleasurably in time to their pretty, regular rhythms. ~Hermann Hesse

I was surprised by the number of favourable responses I received to a recent post in which I stated that not one of the images I consider as my most meaningful resulted from planning. Continuing this line of thinking, it also implies that if I was in the habit of planning my photographs, I may have succeeded in following my plan and rewarded with images that are pleasing and popular—things that can be planned for—but I would never have made any of these images that I consider meaningful and revelatory—things that cannot be planned for. In this sense, planning can be considered a great impediment to making the kind of work I value most. With the danger being, ironically, succeeding in accomplishing the planned outcome.

Among the changes observed in the brain during flow states and in times of heightened creative performance is a phenomenon known as transient hypofrontality, involving the temporary deactivation of parts of the prefrontal cortex known to be associated with decision making, a sense of self, inhibition, self-censorship, and planning.
Worse yet, if beholden to plans, I would not have had the experiences that led to the making of those images—experiences marked by such things as exploration, discovery, creative epiphanies, novelty, and what psychologists refer to as flow states, defined as optimal experiences that are so enjoyable that people will pursue them for their own sake, independent of outcome, and which involve changes in consciousness and brain functions that are profoundly rewarding and known to be strongly correlated with creativity.

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  • Neil McCoubrey

    Hi Guy. Your comments have struck a chord with me. I am at Edinburgh Napier University, researching into the intuitive processes that landscape photographers use to compose their images. I’m talking about the exact opposite to pre-visualisation or “planning”.

    When I comes across a new scene I usually compose and take my first image intuitively, within a very short time. There is little or no thinking involved. I see, I compose, I take. After that I will review my image and may make some adjustments to the composition. However, as you observe, more often than not, it is the first composition, the one that was created intuitively, that really captures the scene and my emotional responses.

    I too have tried to plan my images but am always disappointed because the light, my mood, my expectations, or something else goes contrary to the plan, once I’m at the location.

    My commercial customers want spectacle. When I lead photo holidays my guests want to create spectacle. For these I do have to plan, in detail, and cater for all conditions. But then I am not the customer. For myself I want to capture the mood I am feeling and create narratives that will engage viewers. I cannot plan for that but it can happen intuitively.

    Thanks for your post which has helped me to articulate my own thoughts. If you would like to see more of my researches I have my own blog at http://www.marginalstructures.co.uk

    • Thank you very much, Neil! You affirm my experience with commercial photographers who also set aside time to apply their skills in more personally meaningful ways. I think that finding this balance is characteristic of many who earn a living in creative work. After all, there are more lucrative professions if all one wants is to earn an income.
      Intuition is a fascinating concept to me. It seems to emerge out of one’s psyche with no effort or conscious intent, and yet it encompasses all that one is: all that you’ve learned and experienced, all that you know and believe, all that you feel and all that you hold worthy. It should not be dismissed that intuition arises out who you are at a point in time. It is a culmination of the things that make you a unique individual. This is why I believe it leads to your most meaningful creations: it is your innate response to a stimulus, before rational thinking sets in and tries to explain your emotional state, and often distorts the essence when it is viewed through the lens of rationalization and cognitive dissonance that we are all prone to.

  • Stuart Westmore

    Another enjoyable article, Guy.
    I’m interested in where you draw the line between the planning a photograph and putting yourself in the place where an image of beauty is likely to be found.

    • Thank you, Stuart! The long answer is in an essay titled, “The Path of Opportunity”:


      Answering more concisely: I prefer working in places that are familiar to me and that I chose as my home because they inspire me in many ways and that to me are innately beautiful.

      As for planning, the closest I come to it is if I find a composition that I determine will look better at a different time of day or different time of year, or under specific weather conditions, etc., I will return to it when these conditions occur. But, I don’t just go to “get the shot.” I’ll make the photograph to “get it out of my system” and then proceed to explore without preconception, as I usually do.

  • Excellent article Guy, thank you.

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