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Waiting For The Perfect Moment

December 26, 2012

For the majority of photographers, the pictures we visualise in our imaginations always turn out better than the ones we actually take. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are in the studio shooting food, portraits or products, or on the trip of a lifetime to an exotic hitherto unexplored destination. If we are honest with ourselves, the anticipation of what we might capture is inevitably better than what we actually get.

Why does this happen, and how do we deal with it?

In the studio, it happens when an art director supplies a layout, drawn in that “art directors” freehand manner. The drawing that totally ignores the reality of the product, the limitations of current lens and lighting technology, or the laws of physics. In portraiture, it can be the topography of the subject’s face, unexpected blemishes, or just simply a lack of rapport and an inability to find the common ground that leads to great portraits.

In travel photography, the phrase “You should have been here last week” is the most common you will hear. It covers everything from the current weather conditions, ” It never rains here at this time of the year,” to “The elephant migration has been in the same week for 30 years, I don’t know what changed this season!”

The important question is, how do we, as photographers, deal with it?

Let’s go back and analyse the cause. The problem is that our imaginations don’t have to deal with the realities of time, weather conditions, equipment etc. We can examine other people’s pictures, look at a book, and imagine what we will take when we’re confronted by the same subject.

While it seems both an obvious and simplistic concept, the camera has no imagination. It, more or less, faithfully records what it is pointed at. As photographers, we have to point it, expose correctly, focus and press the shutter. Most of this can now be achieved automatically. That is, everything except the choice of where we point the camera.

This single act is where the art of the photographer takes over. Forget your preconception, erase the image in your mind; look around you and see what it is you are going to photograph. Work with the conditions and situation that confronts you.

See what is there. Compose, move forward and backwards, look behind you and to the sides. Wait for a while till the light and conditions change. You may get better or worse shots, but keep shooting. This is how the magic happens.

Your attitude must change. If life hands you lemons, don’t make lemonade, put on a macro lens. The camera is a reality, recording tool. Pictures can be manipulated, changed in Photoshop, filtered until the source is unrecognisable, but a picture always starts out with something tangible and light passing through a lens. Deal with the conditions that confront you, not the ones you imagined, and make the most of them. Your pictures will be all the better for it.

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