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Planned vs. Spontaneous

Lesson 24 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

24. Planned vs. Spontaneous

Lesson Info

Planned vs. Spontaneous

So when it comes to the planned moments versus spontaneous moments, I feel, I've experienced this a lot, there is kind of a difference between making sure that everything's planned and then allowing room for the spontaneous to happen, and there's a balance between the two. So I mentioned earlier, coming into this session with a few ideas, like you just saw me with the scouting moments was, "Hey, I'm going to start here," you know, I had it kind of in my head maybe. You know, this is where she's going to stand, and maybe we'll go from there, but within those spaces, there has to be room for the unplanned moments because that's when I think a lot of the magic happens. So my husband's always telling me, I think it's his grandfather, and I don't know if his grandfather said this, so I can't say that it's a quote from his grandfather or anybody else, but it's that concept that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. So yes, I can get lucky, but I also had to prepare for tha...

t moment to happen, so I want to align and make decisions, intentional choices, that will allow that lucky moment to strike, you know? Put myself in a scenario where I like the light, I like the location, I made these intentional choices about the wardrobe, and then maybe a sweet moment that I didn't anticipate happens. So that's something that I've really experienced a lot, and it's really how I work. So some of this stuff is planned, and some of it isn't. I use the terminology, let's try. You'll see that a lot in my video. Let's try this. There's this kind of light, experimental, kind of playful feel to it, which gives me a lot of freedom when it comes to the posing. So let's try that. What if you did this? Oh, can you pause? You know, it was like, in this moment, she's picking the dog up, and I was like, oh wait, that is amazing, can you hold that for a second? And that wasn't something that we planned. It was like oh yeah, she loves to be held. This is how she loves to be held. And I wouldn't have thought that with a black lab, you know? So that was the moment where it was like oh, just stop, I didn't plan that. We were on our way up the stairs, and, you know, just can you pause for a moment? And sometimes if I see something I like, hey, would you mind trying that again, or, oh I missed that. It's okay to call that out. I totally missed that, but I'd love to retry that if you're willing. Let's see what we can do there. So asking them to pause and giving direction once they're in there, like, oh I love that, but would you mind turning around, or hey, why don't you, can you look at her, at the puppy while this is going on? So there is that level of maybe that was a spontaneous moment, but it could also be something that I can start to mold as well. And then I had to get the dog's attention, right? So there was that active participation in that process. So we're in the water, there's a stick. Can I plan that moment exactly? No. This is more of a her being there in that environment, my settings being ready for what I wanted was all there, but the actual moment was spontaneous. You know, setting up the lighting and seeing where are we going to be, where are you going to sit, you know, that kind of thing. It's a little bit more posed, but the actual moments and expressions. They're authentic, they're real. (students laughing) And this situation like, you know, this is a recent session and I put, you know, it's like, oh can I get a picture of this, of our dog with the baby, and then it's like, okay, that dog was totally upstaging, and I just caught it. It wasn't really the planned version. And not necessarily even something that my client would want, but they did actually, but I was responding to what I see. Sometimes I take pictures for me, you know? I take pictures because I like them, and I'm responding to them. It's not all about what I'm thinking the client's going to want. We'll talk more about what the client wants versus what I want a little bit later, but this is kind of a moment that I took that picture for me. I didn't tell these dogs to go lay down in the kitchen. They were really hot, and they just laid down after drinking some water. And I was just paying attention. So I was just observing what was going on, and that wasn't really a directed moment at all. So next you're going to see two videos. So I'm still with Libby and Willow, and the first video you're going to see is the planned location idea, where we worked within kind of my plan during the scout, and then the second you'll see, so the first location we're going to be in the kitchen, and in the second location you'll see me go into the main area where I was just kind of didn't plan, it wasn't part of my scouting, not something I noticed while I was doing the scouting, but was in direct response to Willow's behavior. So we were having a difficult time. Willow liked to be held, but she didn't really, there was a moment where she was kind of over it, so we were thinking, where can we kind of contain her within this space? And I noticed, you'll see there's a ledge that we ended up photographing her on. So keep your eyes open for the unplanned and the planned moments throughout these videos here. So we're in the kitchen now, and I've set up a three foot soft box in here. There's some good ambient light. It's pretty quality, but there's not quite enough to photograph both the cat and Libby as well. So I want a lot of detail to show up. I like the detail of this kitchen. I like the tile and the wood, and I definitely want to make sure I have enough depth of field to photograph both Libby and Willow in the same image sharply. I've also got a silver reflector over here to camera left that I might use to pop a little bit more light into Willow's dark fur. So I'm going to have you stand right about here, okay? Great. And I'll have you look here. Good. And take a step to your left for me. Perfect, right there. Good. And just look right at me. Good. Nice. Just going to check my exposures. They look good. (purring) I'm going to see if I can get her a little bit more engaged with me. And you might need to regroup. So I've got a few from that. So like regroup your hold on her. Sure, yeah. That's good. Willow, look up. What's this? Oh yeah. And I'm going to have you put your head close to hers and kind of more like cheek to cheek if you know what I'm saying here. I'm going to move this around, her collar. Excellent. Yeah, just nuzzle her up there. That's perfect. Great. Yep, and you can look at her, I like the way you did that. That was perfect. Awesome. And look at her one more time if you could, maybe nuzzle up against her. Yeah, perfect. (meowing) What do you think? What are you thinking? That's great. I'm going to move in a little bit tight on her. Good. Going for kind of like even closer if you can get your... Yep. Oh, that's good. (meowing) Okay. Oh, and her exit. Perfect, that was great. We got a lot of good ones there. That was good. Hello. You've never done that before. Oh my goodness. Psss-psss-psss-psss. You like that? Willow. Hi. Willow. Hey Willow. You hear something? Oh yeah, pretty girl. I'm going to come around here. That's pretty back lit, that's a little bit challenging. If I can get her all the way in front of this wall, see if she'll back up a little bit for me. (laughing) Ready? (meowing) I know. You're so good. There we go. You're so good. Hey Willow. Pss-pss-pss. Oh yeah, hi pretty. Licking your chops, thinking about that wet food you're earning? You're being so good. Good girl. Now you're feisty. That was good. Cool. You could probably get her, just, she's doing okay, we could do something. Yeah, I think she's kind of like, interested. Yeah, she's like, this is a game we're playing. I don't think she'll turn around on there, there's not enough room. I could get her to turn around for you too. So it's pretty contrasty over here. There's just a lot of light and she's really dark, so probably over there, because I don't think we can do the reflector in here. It's too much for her. So yeah, we'll put her back there I think. Let me just double check that I'm happy with my exposures and stuff. But yeah, I think that would be cute. You're doing good. One more little round. It's going to be your new favorite place. Uh-oh. No, that's all right. We didn't get you in trouble. (meowing) Meow. That's cute. A better view from up there, huh? Good job, Will. Uh-oh. What's that? Not bad, miss thing. Let me see, can you stand here for a second? That's cute. Maybe just reach your arm up, yeah. That's pretty cute. Willow. Hi. It would be awesome if she would just give you a kiss right now. That would be really cute. I'm going to leave. No, that was perfect, thank you. Awesome. So I'm really happy with how that went, and you know, we tried some things that didn't work and some stuff that did, but we kept moving and switching it up, so I was really happy with the results at the end. So just to wrap up, we had a really great shoot with Willow and Libby. A few things to really keep in mind are that it's going to take a lot of patience, and it's important to remind your clients that it's going to take patience just so the energy stays where it needs to be. We also tried getting things that were comfortable for Willow, so spaces and smells that she was accustomed to. That's why we brought the cat tree up. We looked for natural light situations so we didn't have to spend a lot of time setting up lights, which for me I think is a key element of giving a lot of variety to my clients. So it was a lot of fun, and we got a lot of good images out of it. The ledge, for me, was like a spontaneous, not planned. She was pretty comfortable up there, like curious. So you're kind of watching it in realtime there, which I realize it's kind of a lot to watch a cat session, it's very quiet. But I hope that it's valuable to see just kind of the energy that's required, that kind of more subtle energy, more subdued. And some notes that I noticed when I was watching it back, was the concept of where, I remember I used to really be insecure about asking for what I wanted to have happen on the shoot because I didn't want to, I didn't want to inconvenience my client. Didn't want to, you know. So there was a moment where you see at the end where Willow is kind of at the edge and it's not working for me, lighting-wise. It was just too contrasty and it wasn't working. And there is a split second in my head that's like, can I ask for this? Can I ask to move her again? I knew that Willow was okay with it, but there was that split second of not being sure, and then I'm like nope, I got to ask. You always have to ask and try for it. They can say no if they're not up for it, but I think it's really important just from a direction standpoint to say no, I'm going to have to kind of put on the director's hat and say, hey, can we do this? That's what I'd really like. Because it's ultimately what I wanted. So that was something that I noted there. You talk a little bit about spontaneity and that you originally hadn't planned on being up on that ledge. What was happening when, was it because something wasn't working and then you just spotted it, or what was going on that you then said, oh, I think this is going to be a great spot. So I didn't even notice that ledge really when we first walked in, but I mentioned that cat tree, that we had brought the cat tree up, and you didn't see that in the video just because there wasn't, we needed to kind of focus on these bigger teaching points, but we brought this cat tree up by the window and she just wasn't really, we thought, okay, this is her smell, and she was sleeping on it downstairs, and we'll bring that up. Well then we tried it, and she just wasn't interested in staying on top of it. And actually, Libby had said to me, well, she's kind of the cat that likes to go under things versus the height. Doesn't like to be on top of things, which is pretty atypical of cats in general, but that was what she had told me. But when I saw the ledge, I thought, I don't know, it kind of seems like a pretty sweet spot for an animal if we could fit one up. And I asked Libby if she'd be willing to do it, and she actually said, "I don't know." She kind of reiterated that Willow liked to be under things and didn't really like height. But I said, "Would you be willing to try it?" And she's, "Yeah, for sure, we could try that out." So it was kind of just something, as I was looking around the room, thinking what are we going to do, what are we going to do? And that I think worked out really well. And if we had more time in that location, I would have spent probably, if that were a regular client shoot, I would have probably spent a good 20 minutes longer there, and I might have even set up a light if I was really feeling energetic about that. But yeah, I was really happy with what happened at the end and just being open to how could we react to what we were dealing with. Do we have any questions in the studio? Yes, Jen. I think part of the reason, like over the last couple of days, why I'm thinking you're so amazing is that you really make it simple, or look simple to photograph black animals. And I know from personal experience it can be challenging. Do you have any tips? Because even in your regular portfolio there's so many amazing pics of black dogs, and do you have anything that you can suggest to make that easier? Well, thanks for your question and the nice words. I think that black animals, a lot of the reason that people don't photograph, that it's harder to photograph black animals is because their fur absorbs the light. So wherever possible, like having some kind of, you're playing into the sheen on them. So it is possible to put light on them. You might need a silver reflector in some cases, or I might not use a silver reflector because it's a little contrasty on a regular situation. But using a little bit more contrast, a little bit more light, just making sure you have enough light on the subjects. Now, it is in also choosing the environments in which I'm photographing those animals. So keeping in mind the dynamic range that my camera can pick up, so between the shadow and the highlight detail, what kind of situations am I putting myself info to try to set myself up for success in those situations. So if I'm photographing a dark animal, it's going to be easier for me to be outside with direct sunlight than it would be in the shadows somewhere. So making sure that you have enough light and that you're making these decisions where you're not putting yourself in these really impossibly contrasty scenes. That will really help you in general. And shoot manual all the time, so that's just what I'm used to, and I know that I'm going to need some more light. When I heard that these animals were going to be dark, there was a moment where I'm like, oh man, like just another element. It is another element to consider. And that room was pretty bright as far as Libby was concerned. She had some different coloring in there, so that helped with the contrast. But my ISO had to be a little bit higher than I would normally love it to be, and I have to adjust somewhere to make it work for me. So there's definitely that consideration. But it's not something I don't think about by any means, so it can be challenging. Thank you. That question had come in online as well about tips for photographing the darker animals. So somebody in the chat room noticed astutely that you did not have the green dress on that you had selected. Was there a reason that you actually did that outfit change and chose a different outfit for the kitchen? So as I mentioned before, we didn't choose to put the green outfit pictures. I did do a series of images in the dining area. There was a purple tablecloth in there. I think you could see it in the video at the end. There was a purple tablecloth, and so the green looked really great against that. So we just did some images there, but I felt like we just didn't show them because there were more interesting teaching moments in the other locations. But I was really happy with the green dress choice in terms of color. Yeah, it was a good choice. And we just changed for fun, and also just for the kitchen, I just thought, oh, it just had a different feel to it, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to have some variety. I don't always do a lot of wardrobe changes with my clients, but I feel like it can shift energy sometimes and can get them more excited and just have fun with the process. So that's why we chose to switch dresses there. But it wasn't an absolute necessary thing. Another question. We noticed yesterday, and other people at home noticed yesterday that for a lot of the images you are creating, you left a lot of empty space, and somebody had asked, was that your brand, or is there another reason? So when you're doing shoots like this, are you shooting as well for yourself to match your brand and things that you can show in your portfolio? Is that part of what's going through your mind as well? You know, I think it's like a chicken and egg thing. I don't really feel like, I'm never shooting for my brand. Like that word does not come into my mind at all. My brand I think was developed as a result of what my aesthetic choices and my interests and kind of my style. So it as almost like I identified my brand after the work that I've done and really knowing myself as a photographer what I gravitate towards, as opposed to thinking from the opposite direction. When I'm thinking, oh, I might get this shot, it's not because it's not aligning with my brand, it's because I don't like it as much. And I like to have breathing room in my images for example. I like kind of the changing up of the compositions and playing with that, so that's something that I just gravitate towards naturally and aesthetically. And the brand kind of develops itself afterwards. When it comes to choosing the images that I share with people, are there images that I've taken that don't align with the look that I want in terms of the overall feel of my work? I won't choose to put those images out into my portfolios online or share with the world because they're not really aligned with the work that I want to continue to make on the big picture. But all of that, style considerations, composition, it's just kind of what speaks to me and what my eye goes, oh yeah, you know, I like that, more of that. Do you have any tips for people who are developing their style as to how to go about doing that? So kind of back to what I said about developing it over time, is more paying attention to what is it that you gravitate towards, backing up from your imagery, so gathering your work and kind of scaling back from it and saying, wow, I tend to do this a lot. And where are my strengths? I tend to do really well with closeups. So maybe that's something that I really love to do and I can kind of feed on that and make decisions moving forward to either get more work that's like that or create more imagery that is aligned with that. So it's more identifying what your style is than it is generating something. Like I don't think you can manufacture your style. I think it's something that you have to identify. So I would suggest getting other people to look at your work, because you're emotionally involved with your work, you're emotionally involved with the process of creating your work. You might be really attached to some images that you made because it as such a good time. You had a great time and you made new friends, but maybe the work is not very strong, or it doesn't align with other work that you're making. So I think there's tremendous value in getting other professionals' eyes on your work, and they can help pull out and identify, like hey, you're really good at this kind of abstraction that you're doing here, or you're really good at more documentary style, and really identifying that, and as long as it aligns for you creatively, like is that feeding you, then I think that's something to build on and go from there. So I'd have people look at your work and back up from your work and notice things that are prevailing throughout your portfolio. Thank you, that's really, really helpful. One more thing. You were talking about planned shoots but then also be ready for spontaneity. How do you decide, what goes through your mind when you actually have to let go of some of those planned ideas that just aren't working? That's a hard one, because there are sometimes everything else is aligning, maybe there's a little girl in cowboy boots and the location's perfect, and everything's like, oh, I really want this to happen here, and I want this moment to happen. And there are times where I think that I've stuck with it to the point where it's worked, and I'm happy that I stuck with it, but there's other times where it's like you know, I pushed that too much, and I missed other opportunities. So I've regretted kind of sticking with an idea too long. And I've learned to move a little bit faster throughout, like how valuable is that image? Is it really worth the time and the energy that I'm dedicating to it? And you know, there's this feeling that you have. I don't know, I have it, where I'm taking a picture and it's kind of flowing, there's a flow it. It's like this is working. But then there's this other moment where this isn't working. You kind of can feel it where something's not aligning, and you feel like you're forcing it and you're making it happen and it's just not working, and those are the times that you want to step away or run away from those ideas.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work