How to harness the power of flow as a photographer to create incredible pictures!
Takeaway Point: Excellent organisation sits at the heart of every successful shoot. No matter the level. By taking the time to organise your shoots you create the mental breathing space to create incredible work, and allow yourself to enter a state of flow more quickly and efficiently. By tapping into the limitless untapped resource that is your unconscious.
Estimated Reading Time: 16 minutes, 16s.
I believe there is a great photographer in all of us, trying to get out at any available opportunity, however, sometimes we do not allow it.
Have you ever been in flow, you may not know it as flow, you may know it as something else, The Zone, completely focused, or uninterruptible. You know what I mean, where you're so focused on what you're doing that time slips away, and you forget to eat, sleep, drink, talk, move?
I'm sure you have, in fact, most people have experienced flow to some degree in some form. Drivers experience it, they get out of their cars at their destination and have completely forgotten the drive there.
As a photographer, you have probably experienced this on a shoot. Everything has clicked into place perfectly, the lighting, makeup, hair, styling and you have a great connection with the model and before you know it 10 hours have passed?
I've seen it happen to Wedding Photographers, they remember getting to the bridal preparation location and before they know it they are packing their equipment and the whole day has flown by in what feels like a matter of seconds.
Okay, so you're probably wondering why I have talked about flow with you for a while now. It's because I believe that as photographers we are all in search of flow, getting to that elusive place where time disappears, and we are fully immersed in the moment itself.
When you are in flow food, water, heat and time become irrelevant, and you have one singular focus, making great pictures. I firmly believe this flow state can be reached by anyone.
I have worked with many of the world's best photographers and the one thing that unites them, that transcends their style, approach or technical knowledge is that they are all in a state of flow when they are shooting. Whether we have been shooting Kim Kardashian for Vogue or Rosie Huntington-Whitley at the Dior Chateau for Harpers Bazaar the photographers are lost in the moment, they are in flow.
Working with incredible photographers I know this flow state is engineered before stepping foot on set. It's a natural state that we all want to get into. However, the key to getting there is engineering it by design, it is rigorous project management and time management, sounds sexy right, it isn’t but the results definitely are.
You're probably thinking, "Yeah Martin, this sounds cool, but how does this make me a better photographer? Actually, how does it get me more sales?"
The reason is that if you are in flow, you take better photographs if you take better photographs you get more clients if you get more clients you make more money. It's really that simple. In fact, science backs it up.
Over a hundred and fifty years of research show that flow sits at the heart of almost every athletic championship, underpins major scientific breakthroughs, and accounts for significant progress in the arts. (1)
See, science, right? Science wins again.
However, if that isn't enough for you to realise that Flow is the key to making great pictures let me drop a couple more science bombs on you by the flow knowledge master that is Steven Kotler who runs the Flow Genome Project. Which is dedicated to mapping peak performance with the best peak performance experts in the world.
You read that right when you're in Flow you are at peak performance.
So here's the science behind it, when you're in Flow your brain releases five Neurochemicals.
is released first- AKA as adrenaline, this makes you fully alert and paying attention to what you are doing.
Dopamine - is up next. This is what enhances pattern recognition and by that I mean it's the chemical that tells you, "You're onto something, keep working on this. Keep doing more of this." You know when you're taking photographs, and it just feels right, that's Dopamine doing its thang.
Endorphins - they're the things that make you feel like Superman like you can do anything. That you can take on the world with your photography. Delicious Endorphins.
Serotonin - Is a mood balancer and aids with recovery.
Anandamide - This is my personal favourite. Who would have thought you could get excited about a Neurochemical? Anandamide is the chemical that allows you to think laterally.
It's the "Eureka," chemical. It's responsible for you saying, "I've got it, let's try this!" and then boom you do something totally new and have an amazing picture. It's the thing that makes you say, "I don't know where that came from the idea just came to me."
Now the amazing thing about these chemicals is that they're in you already. You have them sitting there in your brain as you read this, just chilling until you decide to release them. You read that right, you can release them. However a lot of the time you choose not to.
Unconsciously you decide not to, because you don't allow yourself the mental breathing space to, what do I mean by this. I mean that you, probably like me have a tendency to try and multitask.
Now, multitasking in the flow community is a big no no.
It's a flow killer.
It kills flow because in flow you have to have one singular focus if you are thinking about different things you cannot have one singular focus, duh.
If you don't believe me here are some more science bombs for you.
As it turns out, science has consistently shown that the human brain can only sustain attention on one item at a time (2)
Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.(3)
Yeah, you read that right, multitasking will make you more stressed out by increasing Cortisol production and putting you into a fight or flight mode.
Your body cannot differentiate the severity of fight or flight states, you may just be answering an email while on the phone, however, your body is releasing the same chemicals that it would if you were fighting for your life.
Your body doesn't know the difference.
Here's another science bomb for you.
"To make matters worse, lots of multitasking requires decision-making: Do I answer this text message or ignore it? How do I respond to this? How do I file this email? Do I continue what I’m working on now or take a break? It turns out that decision-making is also very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones. One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important. Why would anyone want to add to their daily weight of information processing by trying to multitask?"(4)
Have you ever made a decision on a shoot and afterwards, went, "What was I thinking?"
I have, I spent the first four years of my photography career doing that. I was trying to be the good photographer and make sure everyone was happy, and the shoots were running smoothly.
However as I find out, if you're trying to do everything right, you'll do nothing right. Including making big decisions about how the shoot should go.
I'll give you an example, a couple of years ago I was on what I thought was a great shoot. However the studio was cold, and I was aware that it was making everyone miserable, especially the models. We weren't shooting big winter coats.
I asked my assistant to set up some heaters while I was discussing hair options with the hair stylist. Unfortunately, the assistant forgot so I decided to go and do it myself.
After running around setting up these heaters, I came back to the hair stylist to go back over hair & just as I did my assistant asked me about lighting.
The hair stylist was about to start, so I needed to make a decision, and I said yes to her suggestion when in actual fact I should have said no to. Hindsight is a hell of a thing
Cut to ten hours later, the studio is empty, and I am going through the images and realised I made a bad call with the hair.
An unusable shoot because I was multitasking. Because I made a snap decision about the hair. If I had just focused on discussing the hair instead of trying to multitask, the shoot would have been amazing.
But I tried to be everything for everyone and ended up making a poor decision. And as a result, we all ended up with a set of pictures that cannot be published.
Now you're probably thinking, "I would have caught that Martin." & you're right you might have, but I spent an entire day of multitasking which meant my head wasn't fully in the game and as a result I let a lot of things slip.
You can probably guess I wasn't in flow.
Granted, the bigger the shoot, the less you will have to worry about this sort of stuff because you will have producers who come on and are paid to produce and organise a shoot. Allowing you to just focus on the important details.
However the vast majority of photographers don't have access to producers, and frankly, the size of a lot of shoots doesn't actually call for them.
So what am I getting at here? How a photo shoot is organised can have a huge effect on the quality of the pictures that will come out of it.
Ensuring you are organised means that you can focus on the only important task at hand, taking great pictures and being the best photographer you can be.
THE POWER OF BEING ORGANIZED
Benjamin Franklin, he was a smart guy, he said that up there, and knew a thing or two about organisation. After all, he ran an entire country while being a polymath, leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He was organised.
So what does big Benjamin Franklin have to do with you?
I have watched shoots fall apart due to a lack of preparation, mine included, and I don't mean just in a physical sense. I mean the mental strain it puts on people.
If you are trying to shoot while you're thinking about ordering lunch, then you are multitasking and when you multitask you cannot be in flow.
So you're probably asking "How do I avoid that Martin? It sounds horrible!" That's a great question
Well, I'm going to tell you and give you a few techniques you can use.
In fact I am using these techniques as I sit and write this. If I'm honest with you, I never got a lot done in previous years until I discovered these techniques and as a result I am in flow states more frequently and as result do more meaningful work in a day as a photographer than I did before in a week.
So what does organisation have to do with flow state and taking photographs? Everything, as photographers we want to easily get into that completely focused and attentive mindset that is flow state, however if we have not engineered the situation to be so its going to be pretty hard to do.
Ensuring your shoot is properly organised before hand and making sure that all bases are covered means that you give yourself the mental breathing space to fully immerse yourself in your photography and capture amazing images.
Flow is reached by being proactive enough that you have all your bases covered prior to a shoot so you can ensure you are in a position to be reactive to the situation and what's in front of your lens.
I know right, what does that even mean?
It means that if you are prepared for any eventuality. You allow yourself to stay in the moment, in flow, if something does arise that needs to be dealt with. Because you know you prepared for it, it's handled.
Photography isn't a science, it's an art. However science and structure can provide a clear path to get replaceable results.
If you can imagine it like this. Excellent organisation is like laying the foundations for a house. The foundations are what everything else is built on, without them, you could have the greatest materials, the most magnificent exteriors and interiors, but at the first sign of trouble, the whole thing will crumble.
Now, nobody sees the foundations, nobody really walks into a house and goes "you've got some great foundations here," but if something goes wrong, a storm hits, you're ready to weather it. That's what good shoot organisation is like.
If you're prepared beforehand and organised, if something goes wrong you've already laid the groundwork to deal with it, or at least handle it more efficiently and not be as swayed by it.
If you're organised then anything can be thrown at you and you'll be safe in the knowledge that you can deal with it and keep moving forward.
Good organisation allows you to focus on the task at hand and become fully immersed in it safe in the knowledge that everything else is done. Being organised means you can trust yourself and trust your system.
In fact you can get into a state of flow whilst organising. So what's the best way to organise something.........
DUN DUN DUHHHHHH
THE POWER OF LISTS
An important thing I want you to understand this level of organisation sits at the heart of every successful shoot. Whether it's performed by the photographer, their assistant or a producer. It exists.
Now lists, don't sound sexy or cool. However, lists are effective for a number of reasons.
First of all, they're great for repetitive tasks, they enable you not to have to waste your time on having to think about all the steps involved in each task every time you need to do it again.
Boom, time saver.
As a photographer you're busy already, why would you want to waste your time thinking about how to do something again & again multiple times?
Lists can also save you time off completing the task itself if you take the time to create a list for something you can shave around 20% off of the overall completion time of the tasks.
This again is great as if it's a repetitive task you will continue to save time.
Also, a list helps you stay on task, it means you don't deviate and get pulled from pillar to post as your mind darts off in other directions a list can help you get into flow state.
Now I know you're probably thinking, "Great a list, how cool....BORING." But there's a great Dennis Gabor, quote I like to think of when I am planning something and getting bored by the process
"We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it.”(6)
Remember what I said about the photographers I work with, they engineer the conditions for flow before they even step on set. That's because they or their team create that condition with meticulous planning.
This level of organisation that I am about to show you sits at the heart of every successful shoot.
So now you know lists are the way to go to get into flow. (I liked that it rhymed, I'm a poet, and I didn't even......think about it as I was too busy writing this article to help you become more awesome.....that didn't rhyme but it's true.)
MAKING THE PERFECT LIST
When you go to, write a list for a shoot. You'll most likely notice your brain darts about, you go from writing, "Book models" to "Charge all camera batteries" to "order lunch" and you may get down the page and then start asking yourself "what else do I need to do?" this is pretty standard.
You can even try it now, you'll probably get a fair few written, I'd imagine if science serves correct 10 or less. The reason I say 10 or less is because of incredible scientific discovery called 7 + or - 2.
Don't worry I'm not going to get into that in this blog post. That's for another blog post itself.
So what I thought would be best is to show you the steps needed in organising a basic fashion shoot. Not just the main steps but every single step that you must go through before you even set foot on the shoot itself.
I know this doesn't sound cool, but I know that a fool proof organisation system is probably one of the greatest tools and skill in a photographers arsenal.
It's something that can be easily overlooked, and yet it's integral to allow you to perform at your very best and make the most wonderful pictures you can.
As you’re a photographer, you will probably be a visual learner, so I figured let’s mind map this.
MAKING IT WORK
Let’s start with outcomes/goals and then figure out the process and tasks involved in completing these outcomes.
The models, you need to models right?
Then the MUA
Then the Hair stylist
Then the Stylist
You’ll need a mood-board so you can communicate your ideas effectively to the team visually.
For this you’ll be shooting in the studio so you will need to book it.
You’ll also need a call sheet so everyone knows where and when they are going too.
You’ll also need to make a kit list and prepare the kit so you know have everything to achieve your desired results, right?
So as you can see you have eight outcomes before you even step foot on the shoot itself, now these are outcomes only. These are your desired results.
These are not the tasks that are involved in actually completing these outcomes. So let’s look at the actual steps required to complete each of them.
Okay, so that’s a lot of steps right? It’s actually 48 individual steps before you even step foot in the studio. Let me say that again, there are 48 different steps in organising a very simple fashion shoot.
Now you see each of those branches, where you can see each individual tasks. That's a technique I use called Chunking. Chunking is basically taking a complex task or goal and breaking it down into smaller manageable parts.
Why do I do this? Because the idea of organising a shoot is pretty daunting, especially If have to complete 48 individual items. Imagine if I handed you a list of 48 different tasks and said do it. You'd probably look at the list and feel overwhelmed, and you'd be entirely within your rights do so.
But, what if I handed you a list of ten items? You'd probably go, "I can handle this." And at the end of completing the list you knew you had completed an outcome and were one step closer to shooting? I'm sure you'd feel pretty pleased with yourself.
Also by chunking it down you make yourself a list for each area of your shoot allowing you to focus on that one area and do what......you guessed it, get into flow.
By having a list you have a reference point for focus, meaning that if you get pulled down the rabbit hole of distraction you can find your way back and pick straight up where you left off.
So how does this work on the shoot itself? In the exact same way. Let me show you.
As this shoot is a fashion shoot you know you want to liaise with the Stylist first, as the clothes will largely dictate the makeup and hair. So it makes sense to start there.
Now that you have determined the final looks with the Stylist for the day. You want to ensure the makeup is on point, so you speak to the makeup artist to decide on the final looks.
It's hair time now, again rinse and repeat. Take everything you've discussed with the stylist and makeup artist and take that to the hair stylist.
Now, of course, you want to make sure the models are fully briefed on the shoot, so they know what to expect.
This is a commonly overlooked part on a lot of shoots. Actually speaking to the model and getting their take on the shoot as after all it is their personality which will be coming across in the images and it's important to have them get into the right mental space to bring that persona to the pictures.
Obviously, you don't forget this part because you're an excellent photographer, but some other people do.
So you've spoken to everyone, you've picked clothes, styling, makeup, hair and communicated this all with the models. Now all you have to do is determine the running order of the day & schedule time for lunch and let everyone know.
Last but not least get your light right and do a test.
I know what you're thinking, "Martin this is a lot? I don't think I need to be this organised is it not overkill?"
No, it's not. Remember all those amazing science quotes I showed you earlier?
As a famous person once said,
"Yeah science bitch."
Well it was Jesse from Breaking Bad, but he did know his science....
Anyway, I digress.
Look at everything above, after you've completed these tasks all you really have to focus on is taking the best pictures you can. That's it.
What's more, you can implement this system with anything; a pen and paper, fancy software like Mindnode or the standard note taking app on your phone.
Just remember to break down the shoot into the big Chunks then break those chunks into smaller chunks and handle them one at a time, and you'll be on track to making some of the best pictures of your life.
By being organised it allows you not to worry about the "What if's" & "Did I?"s because you know you handled the "What's" and are safe in the knowledge that you, "did."
I challenge you to try this system just once and let me know how it works for you: Were you less stressed? Did you have an amazing experience and were fully in flow? Did you notice different ideas come to you? Or alternatively let me know your systems for organising shoots. We can all learn from each other. So Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you or head over to my Instagram or Facebook and leave a comment.
- Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. [https://medium.com/the-mission/why-multitasking-inhibits-your-ability-to-get-into-flow-c44e307738cb#.rzr8jjilm]
- [https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-neuroscience-mindfulness/201601/the-myth-multitasking]Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort (p. 246). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- 1963 March 28, New Scientist, Books: How to be dignified though useless, by Nigel Calder, [Review of “Inventing the future” by Dennis Gabor], Page 712, Column 2, Published by Reed Business Information. Dennis Gabor Won the Nobel Prize in Physics