What can we learn from Improv?

Your intentions of photography may differ from mine, but we share a few driving forces. We do it for others, to entertain them, tell a story, or raise awareness. We do it for ourselves to entertain ourselves, to make a living, or just to show off our skills. Trying to grow as a photographer, I will take a glance at other disciplines of art or theatrical and cultural expressions. This time I will look into Improv.

Recently my company selected me for a talents programme called “Future Leaders” to develop myself into a leader. Not necessarily a manager, but also a team-leader, or a leading force in my expertise. In the first session an Improv actor and teacher told us the importance of reacting to our environment. We are inclined to think ahead, but sometimes we need to react to what is happening.

This got me thinking. As a photographer I tend to think about an image and then try to create it, but in other occasions I wait to see what crosses my path and react to that. However… will I really see what crosses my path? Am I paying attention to my environment without any assumptions?

In Improve there are several “rules” on how to respond to a situation to let a play develop into a story. Let’s take a look at the five rules of Improv:

  1. Don’t deny

In Improv, if your partner tells you he is a clown, don’t deny it. How many photographers have that one picture they never took? Because you forgot your gear, or at that point thought it wasn’t special enough. Or maybe because the gear was not “good enough” for the scene… Don’t deny, take that picture no matter what gear, and carry your camera with you at all times (or at least often).

  1. Don’t ask open ended questions

Improv Encyclopedia states: “Open ended questions (like “Who are you?”) are scene killers because they force your partner to stop whatever they are doing and come up with an answer.” While this may not be relevant to landscape photography, it is when  you work with models. Make sure they know what to do and what you expectations are. Be direct and specific, tell them what you want to capture and not just where they should stand or sit. But if they have their own creative ideas, don’t stop them.

  1. You don’t have to be funny.

If you try to be funny, most of the time you are not funny, but annoying. In photography this means you should not force results. In landscape photography, you can’t change the rain into a sunny scene, you’ll have to wait for the sun or change the results you head in mind (react!). When you work with models and expect a certain result but the model has an off-day, be patient and the results will come. Forcing it will disappoint you, because more often than not the picture comes out different from the perfect shot you had in mind. Take control, but don’t force it. Also, try to capture what suits YOU best. Don’t try to make a happy picture if you are down, it won’t do right to your subject. Make the scene suit your feelings.


Central Station Amsterdam, The Netherlands. During this day I felt a bit grey and part of a mass society. So I didn’t go for “happy shots”.

  1. You can look good if you make your partner look good.

To quote the author of the Improv Encyclopedia: “When you are in a scene, the better you make your partner look the better the scene is going to be and, as a direct result, the better you are going to look.” This is not any different in photography, the people you work with will pick up your energy. If you are cranky, your model will get cranky or scared. If you are enthusiastic, so will the people be you work with. They will get better, and make you look like a good photographer.

  1. Tell a story.

This is crucial in photography. A picture with no subject, with no story, is a boring picture, even if it is technically perfect. A less perfect picture, with a great story, makes a great picture!

Next time when I go out for some photography, I will really try to go Improv-style. Most tips given here, are really self-reflections and self-criticism. Hopefully it was useful for you as well!

Thank you www.improvencyclopedia.org for letting me steal your knowledge!

Kind regards,



  1. Pingback: Reflection: Lessons you didn’t expect to learn | Luvo Photography

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Hi there!

I spent a lot of time working on this website. I love it! If you appreciate this blog you could show it by subscribing to my newsletter.

Fill in the form below and you’ll stay up to date! Thank you  🙂

%d bloggers like this: