Can improv help photographers? Have you been to see an improv show? Excellent long-form improv, where the story is royalty, with a group of seasoned performers? What you get is a performance where nothing is rehearsed, scripted, or even discussed ahead of time.

The players spin a story that is nuanced, complex, layered, and surprising. It’s always funny, but it can also be heartfelt and sad, or poignant, or inflected by the news of the day. Sometimes it’s surreal, but on other occasions, it’s stunningly real.

Fancy hotel bathroom

Chase Padgett (6 Guitars, Nashville Hurricane) brings another show that’ll make you say, “I guess that was worth 12 bucks.” Entertainment photographer Andy Batt created this killer image.

I needed to know how that magic worked, and how could it help photographers like me.

I’ve photographed many improv players and have been to a lot of their incredible shows. I needed to know how that magic worked — it felt relevant to my work as a photographer: working without a script, being creative, and being in the moment. I had to know how improv can help photographers and directors.

So I signed up for some classes with great teachers that turned out to be excellent, rewarding, and terrifying (but the right kind of terrifying). Being in that environment requires a lot of work for a quiet introvert—but the payoff is worth it.

A very tall man in a too-small tub with his sneakers

Six players enter the stage. Only one will survive. The Curious Comedy Showdown pits improv players against one another in competitive improv matches that will make you laugh until you cry. Entertainment photographer Andy Batt created the image and Patti Bateman designed the poster.

The big secret to how amazing improv is done? Listening.

Listen differently, actively; listening and setting your ideas and your ego aside for a moment. Breathing deeply and letting go of the intense desire to steer, ignore what the other person is saying and only go with what’s in your head. This is hard, non-stop work.

Maybe you’ve heard of “yes, and…”? It’s “yes” I am listening to you and hearing what you’re telling me. It’s “and” I am now going to build on what you have given me. This is good advice for life. It’s also useful for working with a team of creatives and building a collaborative environment. 

 

Behind the scenes photo of Photographer Andy Batt shooting on assignement in a very small hotel bathroom

Read more about my always fun, always crazy shoots with improv supergroup J-Names here.

When everyone is working in this mind-space, it becomes a cycle.

The other person does that same for you and builds on what you just offered them. It goes around and around to places neither of you expected. It’s a real collaboration. (Speaking of going around, re 

My resulting artwork is always more substantial when I slow down and listen, whether it’s a still photograph or a scripted scene. Thanks to improv, I am better at what I do. The resulting image is always stronger when I remember to slow down and listen. Improv can help photographers.

Want to see more images of Colin Mochrie, best known for his work on Whose Line is it Anyway?

Andy Batt and PJ Tucker pose after a photo shoot

Improv comedian Colin Mochrie from Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Photographer Andy Batt and style director Shannon looking at their too-small location

Behind-the-scenes shenanigans with my producer and assistant.