Adaptability—The ability to be adaptable—is one of the key parts to being a photographer. There are a few different ways to look at this, too. Being flexible can apply to the day to day vagaries, to the things that we photograph, and even to the techniques and styles that we use to create our photographs.
On the day to day level, being adaptable means being able to roll with whatever the day can throw at you. Sometimes this means that you were expecting the day to be sunny and warm, but it actually turns out cold and rainy—thus, you need to adapt, which could mean bringing extra gear along to accommodate for different lighting conditions or to protect your equipment against the moisture.
This can also mean something like your car breaking down on the way to your location. For most of us, I think the hassle and annoyance of such a thing would stop us from taking photographs. But, is it possible to explore your immediate area while you’re waiting for the tow truck? Being flexible means not coming home empty-handed no matter what happens to alter your best-laid plans.
The intent is another way in which we can be flexible. Most of us head out into the field with a definitive idea of the things we’re going to photograph. If you’re going to a particular neighborhood, for example, then you probably have the intent to take architectural photographs of various buildings there—or to take photographs of some other facet that draws you to this particular neighborhood, like street lamps or signs.
But what happens when you go on your trip to this place and find that there’s a block party going on? Or perhaps you were examining signs when you noticed a little hidden archway that leads into a beautiful little garden. This is another way in which we photographers can adapt. Sometimes it’s better to abandon the initial plan and to go with what we’re seeing and experiencing in the moment. Not only because these fleeting events can be rare, but also because when we encounter the unexpected, it often proves more inspiring than that which we’d initially set out to do.
This is true of things like techniques and styles, too. You may have intended to spend the day creating black and white images, but perhaps instead you’ve encountered things so colorful that it would be an injustice to mute that vibrance with monotone shades. Such is the nature of photography. Plans can change. Sometimes, it’s because of external factors, and sometimes, it’s simply because we see something that inspires us more than our original ideas. Once in a while, you’ll discover that your favorite techniques and styles just aren’t serving your subject material, which means you’ll have to add something new to your repertoire to capture it just right. At the end of the day, it pays to have an open mind, be ready for whatever the world can throw at you, and be ready to dispense with your best-laid plans if they’re just not working out.