For Photographers Timing is Important in More Ways Than One

For Photographers Timing is Important in More Ways Than One

Sometimes the who, what, and how is surpassed by the when. Timing can be everything. It’s a fact of life, even if a rather cruel one.
You may meet your soulmate, but if she’s on her honeymoon at the time, it won’t do you much good.
A split second can mean the difference between a life-altering collision or swerved wheels and curse words.
In photography, 1/200th of a second can mean the difference between getting THE shot or just getting A shot. But timing can be even more significant than catching an athlete mid-motion, or a bride tossing her bouquet. Timing can follow you from behind the camera and help determine the chances you get, and those that slip away.
Just returning from a trip to NYC to meet with a few ad agencies and publications, I had more than enough time on the long plane ride back to Los Angeles to let my mind linger on the myriad of ways in which fate had played a hand. Despite many successes, there were also many office doors I’d run myself ragged trying to open, but wasn’t able to breach. That’s not a novel concept. In the process of setting up face-to-face meetings, no one bats a thousand. There were even two separate editors I had spent the better half of a month trying to contact, who finally did contact me once I was in NYC only to tell me that they were, in fact, at that very moment… in Los Angeles!
There was the Baltimore based art director from one of the brands at the top of my list that was actually in NY and open to meeting. Only problem. She was in the city until Tuesday afternoon. I arrived in the city Tuesday night. You can’t help but think how many more meetings I might have arranged had I simply arrived or departed on a different day, or different week. Of course, you don’t always know that stuff ahead of time. Destiny will take it’s turn at the wheel.

But there’s another way to look at timing. One that embraces uncertainty while preserving your sanity. That is to accept that events will happen exactly when they are meant to happen, regardless of my pre-determined schedule. And the reason I did or didn’t get the meetings I got on this trip was simply a matter of things falling into their natural progression.
What the heck do I mean? Well, let’s look at things from another angle.
My meeting with the Baltimore based art director did get canceled last second. I was actually going to meet her in Baltimore, a short jump from NYC, but the timing didn’t quite fit. It was a long story. A long story that resulted in multiple pleasant emails being traded between us. We didn’t get a chance to meet this time around, but next time I reach out, I feel confident that she will know clearly who I am. I already know she’s seen my work and is interested in starting a dialogue. So, in a way, NOT getting the meeting may have provoked a stronger bond and facilitated more connection points than if everything had gone off without a hitch.
I also got a chance to meet with the newest member of the art production team at a major advertising agency. I reference the fact that she’s the newest member because that obviously suggests she has the least power. It also suggests, however, that she is more than likely the most open to building relationships with new talent. She obviously has access to all the agency’s vast resources, but may not have had enough time to fully establish her list of frequent collaborators. I now have a chance to initiate a relationship that could last for years by getting in to meet her early in her own career. So, hopefully, as she matures within the company, she can take me with her. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  And sometimes it pays to play the long game.
Or the short game. The very short game.  
My article last week was on the benefits of perfecting your elevator pitch. Well, as if the universe had read the article and wanted to test to see if I was, in fact, full of crap, I got a chance to put my words to use. When entering a high rise near Wall Street to meet with the photo editor of one magazine, I literally boarded the elevator with the photo editor from another large publication. In about thirty seconds, I had to introduce myself, establish rapport, and spit out my well rehearsed elevator pitch to a potential client. Ended up leaving the building with not one connection, but two. The exact timing of the second introduction being the result of me rather unintentionally going to the wrong building at first (luckily only three blocks away), and thus arriving at the new address at JUST the right moment.

But, of course, rather than give father time all the credit and/or blame, it’s worth noting our own role in how timing will affect our careers.  
Had I not spent so much time rehearsing my elevator pitch beforehand, getting the opportunity to meet the second photo editor in that situation wouldn’t have done me much good.
Had I not put in far more than the 10,000 hours of practice suggested by Malcolm Gladwell to perfect my craft and my portfolio, I never would’ve gotten into see the young art producer in the first place and our relationship would never have a chance to bloom.
And had I not spent months cultivating the relationship with the art director from Baltimore, she likely would not have been so generous in trading multiple messages with me over what ultimately was an aborted meeting. But because I had put in the work to establish the relationship, that work, in turn, produced this series of connections. And now the door is now open, which, after all, was the purpose of asking for the meeting in the first place. So now, when the timing is right, I am in a better position to take advantage.

Timing may be everything. But only if you are prepared to seize the opportunity when the clock strikes. And even when it seems as though timing has not worked in your favor, take a moment to realize that what that really means is your time is still to come.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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Such a great article! That last line is so encouraging!

Thank you :)

Great article that applies to life in general, not just photography.

Thanks Patrick