As a photographer, I am often reminded to expect the unexpected. The expected can produce workaday good pictures but it is the unexpected that produces great photos. Since fortune favors the prepared mind, how can we prepare for the unexpected?
To some degree, it is not possible to prepare for the unexpected because the unexpected is by definition exogenous. The decisive moment is decisive because something is happening outside of the normal course of things to alter the normal flow of events. In other words, unexpected subject matter is unexpected because, well, one doesn’t expect it.
But there are some steps we can take to prepare to take advantage of the unexpected:
- Be ready. Know your gear so you won’t fumble. This means photographing often and regularly, much as a musician practices their instrument. Keep your camera accessible (because you can’t take a photo without your camera!). You don’t have to shoot all the time, but when you are in photographic mode be alert, on guard, and prepared to photograph on a dime.
- Be mindful. Listen to your inner voice, it is probably wiser than you think. I always try to listen when my inner voice tells me there is something to photograph, even when I am tired or hungry, or just don’t want to photograph any more. Photograph is a bit like jazz: it thrives on improvisation (even in apparently controlled situations, like when shooting a still life in the studio).
- Be decisive. The unexpected moves quickly, and there is often no time to be lost.
- Be flexible. The most important trait you’ll need as a photographer to take advantage of the unexpected is flexibility. Look all around you and up and down, not just straight ahead. Out shooting landscapes? Fine—but don’t turn away other photographic opportunities such as close-ups or interiors that present themselves.
From the summit of Hawk Hill I expected to shoot the moon rising over the San Francisco skyline. A small bunker, left over from the days when the San Francisco coast was fortified, caught my eye instead. The interior of the bunker was plastered with graffiti. I used a 10.5mm digital fisheye lens with my camera on the tripod to make six exposures, with each exposure at f/13 and ISO 200. Shutter speeds varied between 1/200 of a second (darkest) and 2/5 of a second (lightest). I combined the exposures using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro Photoshop plugin.
For more of my thoughts on this subject, check out my article on Photo.net, Expecting the Unexpected.