Getting Lucky

“You got lucky and have a couple good photos. I imagine everyone has a few great pictures on their computer.” These were the words spoken to me today by a “photographer” who saw me selling prints at Folk Fest. It was interesting to hear, and I agreed with him. After all, it is true that many people have a few great photos; it is also true that I occasionally get lucky while taking photos. But I think he was implying that photographers (maybe nature photographers specifically) don’t have control over the quality of their photos. And that is completely false.

I don’t control the weather, the sun, the way the trees grow, or the layout of the mountains. This is the challenge of nature photography – adapting to the environment, finding strong compositions, waiting for or creating the right light. It’s about working with what is there to create a mood, a story, a little world within a frame. This takes a great deal of practice and skill, along with some experimenting. But there’s always a little luck involved.

These are from the Moss Lake trail in Elk Island National Park last night between 10 and midnight. It was overcast and a new moon so – pretty dark. (For what it’s worth, I was trying to create my own luck and time my visit right to catch the perseid meteor shower. As it turns out I had to work with an overcast sky, so I got these instead)

Lens Changes

While my photo compositions and perspectives change slowly over time, lens changes transform my pictures overnight. I recently switched over to a camera system with a larger sensor, and currently only have money for prime lenses. This has taken a bit of getting used to, and limits my photography in some ways, but it has also provided opportunities I’ve never had before. Cue the shallow depth of field landscapes!

Taking or Making Photos

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about taking pictures as compared to making pictures. Now I take a lot of pictures – I enjoy taking pictures. In my design classes, there has been a fair amount of photography, and thinking of photography as both a technical process and an art. In design, generally, you are expected to make pictures: to arrange the world into a state that communicates an idea, and then capture that in a photo. Usually when I take photos for my own enjoyment I’m not making pictures, I’m taking them. For me this is a way of experiencing the world around me, not arranging it to my specifications. This is generally how I approach life in general, – I’m an experiencer, not an arranger. This has a significant effect on the images I produce. Sometimes I’m tempted to think that taking pictures is a lesser art form than making them. I’m not sure this is the case though. Either way you’re capturing a subjective view of the world around you, and all the same composition and color theory principles apply. Your pictures say a lot about your life, whether you experience or create, and either approach can communicate a variety of messages. I think that the result of taking pictures is often un-original, and I think that’s due to the fact that we all experience many of the same things, and in general, life can get boring. So maybe taking and making photos are the same, but what with taking photos, you’re manipulating your life rather than a composition of objects or people in front of your lens. So there’s the challenge – create an interesting life for yourself and you can *take* interesting photos.