I strive to be a creative photographer, but some days it’s like pushing rope. Recently I realized that improv has taught me ways to be more creative at a moments notice. In this series of posts I plan to share some of the lessons and games that I find useful.
A few years ago, despite my attempts at crosswords and sudoku, I felt like my brain was getting sluggish, not enough exercise. At the time I was playing in a regular ultimate frisbee pickup game, and a number of us decided to go to an improv comedy show to support a fellow disc player who was performing that night. Watching the show, I thought wow, that looks incredibly challenging, maybe I should take a class as mental exercise. Never imagining performing myself, I found myself taking class after class because I was surrounded with people that made me laugh, and was learning techniques that made improvising easier. Having been invited to join the house team upon graduation I was too honored to turn them down. Since then improvisational theater has joined photography as one of my great passions in life.
When you are not feeling very creative, or are having pixel block, try improvising!
Walk through life with your lens cap off
I was in a workshop where an actor was given a scene suggestion and stopped to ask what his character’s motivation was. Improv is so fast paced that you have to take shortcuts if you will. The camera has to be on, and the lens cap off. Improv is sort of like trying to take pictures on a train. The scenery is moving so fast, you can’t decide that you want to take a picture after you see something interesting. You have to have the camera out of the bag when it’s boring scenery so you can be ready in case something comes along so you can seize that golden moment. And yes, you will sometimes scratch your lens, but isn’t that better than a missed opportunity? Is a well kept lens, or ego, better than a great picture or an audience’s uproarious laughter?
Agreement — Yes, and…
One of the first lessons taught in improv is called Yes And. The lesson is all about agreement. Learning to agree with your scene partners is crucial to not ending up in a Am Too, Are Not argument scene which everybody gets enough of at home, they don’t need to see it on stage. The problem with an Argument is that it has 3 possible endings 1) it keeps going, 2) I win 3) you win. Once one person wins the scene is over, but the payoff is only for the winner not the audience. So, the Yes And exercise forces you to start every line with “Yes, And…” So you agree, and add details. The details then in turn give your scene partner something to play off of and it heightens the scene’s interest by allowing progress to be made.
Stan: You look terrible.
Tina: Yes, and i hope not sleeping for three days gets me the part in this zombie movie.
Stan: Yes, and for good luck, I’ve cooked you veal sweetbreads to put you in the mood.
The forced construct is stilted, but it trains us out of our natural instinct which is to be on the defensive, to argue, or to at least try and communicate our own self view, rather than accept the character other people put on to us. The actor playing Tina may be a vegetarian, and would never eat cow brains to prepare for a zombie movie, but she should pretend she does for that scene! Who knows it may lead to a future scene where she is running a restaurant that has Type O smoothies on the menu.
Can your model not successfully pull off what you were planning? Switch gears and go with that they can pull off. Is their too little light to make a sharp photograph? Accentuate the blur and make the image about motion or underexpose and make it about the darkness.
So no matter what your subject matter is giving you, harsh light, a grumpy look, take it for what it is, and add something of your own to it. Or just stop and take time to notice what the first few shots you are taking, are adding to the scene, or trying to change the scene.
Part 2 – Get the creative blood pumping with warm up games (coming soon)