I'm reading a couple of things these days, short things. Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland, and "On Being a Photographer" by Hurn and Jay. They're both pretty good in their own right. Both of them are helping me to refine my own ideas, which is pleasant. Both of them, basically, are simply reiterating well-known things about Art-Making, and fleshing these truths out with a collection of personal refinements and observations.
Both align, in broad strokes, with things I say on this blog.
The point here is that most of my ideas are not original with me. From time to time I come up with something on my own, but it's (almost?) never actually new, other people have thought the same things before. None of this stuff is rocket science. What it is, is mysterious and opaque to the earnest amateur photographer who is bizarrely unaware of these things, these methods, these processes, these ideas.
Here is an interesting case study: Dealing with visual overload. As usual, Mr. Thein is merely providing a sort of canonical example, well written and illustrated, of a practically universal phenomenon. Spend a little time of any of the major photo forums and you'll find the same story repeated endlessly, but in a less handily cite-able format.
In summary, Mr. Thein and a Masterclass group had gone to considerable expense and difficulty to place themselves in Chicago, and found themselves with Bad Light and Uninteresting Subjects. They suffered in the cold and wind for a couple hours, and then suddenly, The Light! The Light! and they had to shoot rapidly for a little while to get The Good Pictures.
So what we have here is a group of photographers standing around, engaged with their environment (albeit not in a positive way, they seem to be cold and grumpy) waiting. Their teacher's advice is to use this time to fuck around with their cameras.
I submit to you that instead they could have taken that opportunity, that time of authentic connection, and used it. They could have shot the cold, the banal, the frustrated. Instead, evidently, the aim was to shoot an inauthentic, generic, cityscape. We know for a fact that these pictures are not Ming's experience of that shoreline, we know for a fact, because he tells us, that it didn't look like that, it didn't feel like that. What it looks like is everything else Ming had ever shot. Presumably the students were are striving to copy that, to shoot the same crisply generic cityscapes that their master grinds out. I can practically guarantee you that damn near anything they could have shot an hour earlier would have been more interesting, albeit less +1-attracting.
The same thing surely applies even in the most standard commercial work. If you show up and the model is a bitch, the clothes are being difficult and half your lights are declining to work, what do you do?
You could give up.
You could struggle through it and try to tproduce work per the original concept, working around and through the problems to create the happy model, beautifully lit, in perfectly fitting clothes. Is it gonna be your best examples of the genre, your best work? Nope. Depending on various factors it's going to fall somewhere between acceptable and terrible.
An option is to not fight it. Shoot the bitch, shoot her in minimal light. Embrace her bad temper, fit the lighting style to what's still going POW! and POP! and figure out how to make the clothes look, somehow, awesome.
This might not be available as a choice. If it is a choice, maybe you can't make it work. But, if it is and you do it's got the potential to be great, not mediocre. Fighting circumstance and clinging to a preconceived vision in spite of it all isn't necessarily professionalism. If you're a carpenter, sure, you gotta get the roof on. If you're a creative, surely your job is first and foremost, to be creative.
If you're not getting paid to do it, if it's personal, there's simply no excuse for mediocrity. Don't pass away your authentic experience screwing around with camera. If you're standing around some shoreline bitching about the light, consider that the problem might not be the light, it might be your ability to see.
All this, of course, sidesteps the impossibility of simply flying into a city for the first time, wandering around it for a couple hours, and hoping to make something interesting of it.