We love to have the illusion of being totally in control. At least I know I do. (the photographer during a particularly anxious period in my life.)
But my best work is nearly always the result of the things I can't or didn't control. The move of a model's head, the glowering weather, a mis-set camera that makes a file I didn't expect and can't repeat. The illusion of being able to control everything around us can be debilitating because we make it so hard for happenstance to have space to enter the equation.
We can't predict a real laugh and we can't engineer it. We can just be ready when it occurs. And it's the same with so much in photography. I can't tell you how many times I've been on location, all set up and ready to go, and had the client run late. The sun, which was perfect at the agreed upon shoot time, starts to move into the "wrong" position, shadows move over into my perfectly conceived space and everything moves from "planned and controlled" into chaos.
If I fight it I come away with something that meets the technical constraints of acceptability but mocks my vision of how great it could have been. But, if I go with the flow of the situation I usually discover some better angle or nearby location that makes an even better image.
In the first photograph I was meticulously metering a location in a courtyard at some really nice convention hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. The client wanted portraits against the background for attendees of a conference who would walk through the courtyard on their way to the main event. They funneled everyone through me. When I got there the wind was strong and the background flapped around, totally out of control. I couldn't use big umbrellas because the wind would knock them apart and take my lights with them. Even with the water bags I had positioned on each stand, as ballast. Eventually I freed the bottom of the backdrop so it could swing and flap in the wind. I couldn't control it and I certainly couldn't "will" it to stay in position. But as soon as I gave up control the wind seemed to die down and "schedule" itself only to be exuberant between sessions and not during them.
I hate handing people my cameras and letting them shoot photos of me. But this time I gave up that control and actually had a great time sharing stories with an executive who was not only interested in photography but also in my role as a photographer.
In the image of the young woman above I had a list in my head of the expressions I wanted to capture. Joyous laughter wasn't on the list but it should have been at the top. When I let go of the list and let the model take control she gave me more than I had planned for. A wonderful smile that communicated well being and joy, and, incidentally, was the perfect image for a dermatology practice.
I've learned the hard way that the universe likes to toy with people who feel as though they can control everything, in the same way a cat toys with a mouse. You'll get some slack but eventually the hammer comes down to wipe away your misguided belief in control. If, instead, you learn to let go of the final result and work to get a good result you'll just about have fighting chance.
As a photographer it's a good idea to know how and why to do the "right" stuff. The technical steps. But it's a hell of a lot more important to recognize the overwhelming power (and sometimes hidden blessing) of chance. The real secret is to be ready to go both ways.
Prepare to follow your plan. Be prepared to abandon your plan. Don't take the path of least resistance, take the path of "most fun."