We photographers are planners. There’s no doubt about that. Everything that we do is most often very carefully planned. When we purchase gear? We generally do it after intensive research into camera systems and available accessories, and then because these items are so expensive, we plan out when to buy the camera and when to add more lenses for it to our collections.
The same is true for things like trips. None of us wants to be disappointed by an unproductive photography trip, particularly when we might be flying to some faraway destination as well as spending lots of time and money to get there. We want to have planned the trip so well that we have plenty of time to take all the photographs possible.
Or compositions. That’s another thing we plan carefully. How can we structure a photograph to the best effect? Where should all of the elements go? What should the lighting and colors look like? For many of us, each image produced represents hours of thought and planning.
All of this is well and good, too. It’s an efficient way for us to operate, one that minimizes lost time and lost money. Planning helps us ensure that we’re at our most productive when it really counts.
But there’s a flip side to this, which is that all of our meticulousness doesn’t really leave room for experimentation. And at the end of the day? Experimentation is how we advance.
Everywhere we look, we can see evidence that experimentation is how humanity advances. The foods that we eat are things that farmers and scientists have spent decades perfecting. All of the technology that we enjoy—every bit of it is the result of some intrepid inventor experimenting until they created something amazing. Cameras wouldn’t exist if multiple people hadn’t taken the time to experiment with light and figure out how to make exposures—and then continue to experiment with the technology until it became what it is today.
That same experimental philosophy has value in photography, I think. Yes, we do need to plan in order to be productive. But once in a while, it’s good to dispense with the planning and just simply experiment in whatever way takes your fancy.
The best part about photographic experimentation is that there are lots of ways to go about it, too. Take photographs of something that you normally wouldn’t photograph, or utilize perspectives, angles, and zooms that you might not normally use. The availability of gear these days lets you try a new filter whenever you want, or even a new lens. Many of us may not want to invest in something off the wall and expensive like a tilt-shift lens or a fisheye, but lens rentals allow us to take these types of lenses for a weekend trip or even an entire week at a fraction of the purchase price, all so that we can experiment as we so desire. Post processing, too, comes with opportunities for experimentation. Try out new techniques, tinker with sliders. Digital negatives are easily copiable, and changes easy to undo, which means you have the liberty to go nuts. So why not try the occasional photographic experiment? You won't know what you might discover until after you’ve given it a shot!