I’m not a natural-born planner.  Planning seems very restrictive; another rule to follow.  My idea of vacation, regardless of the country I happen to be in, is pointing the car in a random direction and seeing where we end up.  There are benefits to not planning:  meeting people and discovering places that otherwise would have been missed.

Then there’s the paradox of my need to plan for the art and business world.  Granted, I’ve had to learn how to plan, but I do feel a certain kinship to natural-born planners when it comes to these areas of life.

Whether directing, stage managing a live show, blocking for a film, designing lighting, or preparing for a photoshoot; the level of detail that I need to have thought of and committed to electrons long in advance of the actual event is borderline obsessive.  Agendas that are scripted down to 5 minute intervals, and in the case of stage managing, sometimes detailed to multiple parallel actions per second, are commonplace.

What’s the benefit to planning in these instances?  It’s creating the time structure that leads to art.  Since I no longer have to think too much about a series of actions that need to happen during a certain time interval, I’m able to be an artist and discover those magical moments that we all seek.

Tools of the Trade

Microsoft Project (Gantt Chart) and Google Smartsheet (Gantt Chart) are helpful big-picture planning tools for projects that last a long period of time: six months, a year, multiple years.  For example, I’m using Google Smartsheet to plan for the upcoming Null Paradox music album (G2).

While these software products are helpful and have some great functionality (automated critical path identification) for very detailed planning, usually in increments of minutes or less, I end up using Microsoft Excel.  Since it’s a generalist tool (spreadsheet) its user interface isn’t designed for planning but it more than makes up for it by being extremely flexible.  And its flexibility is what helps me to really dig down into the fine details needed for planning.

The other tool needed is time.

How much time?  For a single 5 hour photoshoot, I’ll spend a minimum of 2 weeks researching and assembling all of the components that go into my “Look Book/Design Book” (planning document which includes inspiration images and our detailed agenda).  That’s 2 weeks after I’ve talked with my client and understand what they’re desired outcome is for the shoot.  Depending on the client, we may spend another week to hone their desired outcomes to a single tagline (or slug), an overall look, what they’re trying to achieve with the photographs, and most importantly:  what’s the one feeling that a person should have after they’ve viewed the final photographs.

It’s a lot of work, but it results in everyone being able to focus on the art of the photoshoot during those 5 precious hours.  And in the end, everyone involved achieves our collective artistic and business goals.

And what do I do to discover those inspiration images for my Look Book/Design Book?  Sometimes it’s as simple as pointing the car in a random direction and seeing where we end up.



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