Friday, October 14, 2011

Improving on Luck

How much of successful photography, especially nature photography can be attributed to luck?  You just happened to be at the right place at the right time to catch the right light.  Luck is certainly a factor, but you can influence how lucky you are with a little flexibility and preparation.  Keep a camera with you.  As you go to work and come home, especially in Spring and Fall, you may see the sun rising in the morning and setting late in the day as you commute (if you live in rainy Ithaca, NY, you probably see that maybe once a month...)  Be ready if opportunities present themselves.

This was taken one morning on my way to a woodcarving show with my wife.  A crystal clear morning at our house yielded to misty, dew-laden fields in the hills on the way to the show.
Don't wait for luck to happen - try to actively put yourself into situations when something fortunate might occur.  And even if the primary objective isn't working out, be alert for other situations.

This was taken early one morning along Lake Eaton in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  Fog is one of the few things that will generally guarantee my ability to get out of bed at an early hour, and I had gone out early looking for misty woods shots.  While that didn't work out particularly well, I ran onto a lone loon floating on the lake along with a whole flock of mergansers having a morning spash.

Luck, for me, often seems to come in the form of things not going quite as planned.  While taking a photo of a small out-building at Great Camp Santanoni in the Adirondacks, I accidentally fired off a shot while still adjusting the camera.
Seems almost painterly.  The moral here is, keep an open mind!  What you get may not be what you intended, but it might be interesting in a different way.  Now here's the intended shot.  I don't think it's nearly as intriguing:
Be ready to improvise, change plans, quickly switch your gear and/or settings around, and nab the shot that appears, not the one you may have set up for.  In the shot below, along Lake Durant in the Adirondacks, I was all set with a telephoto zoomed in to capture the tall trees left of center against the sunset sky.  Then behind me I heard someone launching a canoe.  A mildly frantic lens change and reconfigure of the camera, followed by one quick test shot for exposure in this rather complex lighting situation, and I was ready just a moment before the canoe came into view:
Also don't get so caught up in your primary subject that you forget to look all around you.  Many years ago I was taking some shots on a bridge in Annapolis harbor with a friend, snapping away (with slide film at that time!) at an absolutely amazing sunset.  The light faded and we packed up and turned around to leave, and saw this:
We nearly missed what turned out to be one of the best shots of the evening.

So don't leave luck to chance!  Put yourself in positions where luck is more likely to strike, don't limit yourself to only your primary objective, be open to possibilities, don't dismiss your mistakes immediately, and be prepared for a sudden change of plan!  Oh and, don't forget to look behind you or you may miss the best shot!

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