Here's another shot I took on the brewery tour last weekend. I came around the corner and looked up and there was a great photograph right there in front of me. I mean a great shot.
This isn't it. The great picture was there, oh, I don't know, maybe half a second before I took this one. It hung there for just a moment and then poof, gone.
I missed it. Too slow. This is its remnant.
I don't know about you, but for me when I have a camera in my hands the world is a shifting kaleidoscope of possibilities in constant flux, possibilities that often don't come together. And then, occasionally, there are brief little moments when everything comes together to perfection in front of my eyes...and then shifts asunder again, disintegrates, disappears.
Here's another one like that. Another "almost." Just a half a tick earlier, the father was looking at the baby (he's just started to look away in this shot), and the baby was looking at Santa's face (she's just looked down at his hand here). (And probably the woman in red—hi Liz!—had her eyes open.) It only lasted half a second. Maybe a quarter of a second. I had it, and missed it. Just barely. Of course, you know what they say—a miss is as good as a mile.
It's almost a great picture, isn't it? Emphasis on "almost."
I saw another great picture this afternoon—one that stayed put, nothing moving, nothing changing, and I knew just what camera I should have had with me to get it. Which I did not have with me, of course. All I could do was stand there in the right place and look at the picture I was missing. I can see it still.
I don't know about you, but I miss a lot more than I get. Don't you hate that?
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
"But even worse, at least to me, are the images I've captured that ultimately fall into what I call the "On the Waterfront" category, referring to Marlon Brando's famous "I coulda been somebody..." speech. Perhaps my timing was slightly off, I was too slow to react, too unimaginative to anticipate what could happen, the wrong light, bad camera position,...For whatever reason (excuse) these images are just nothing special. They don't really work. They're dull, apparently uninspired. But I let them linger in my library sometimes for years, perhaps as self-punishment. I sometimes visit them like a ham-handed surgeon visiting patients he's mangled. These sadden me much more deeply than those I missed entirely.
"I do, however, feel well compensated for these losses by the amount of pure luck I encounter in my photography. Jay Maisel is fond of saying, "The more you shoot, the luckier you get." But in my case this has to be expressed more like, "Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while." It's part of the magic of photography to find something wonderful, but entirely unplanned, in an image. In compensation for my bad luck I sometimes congratulate myself, and take unwarranted credit, for plain old good luck.
"So the world remains balanced and I can get out of bed in the morning!"
Featured Comment by David Bennett: "It's a lot of years since I saw a man rocking back on his heels laughing while on the telephone.
"He was using the wall telephone that stores in La Paz, Bolivia rent out by the minute to passers-by.
"The store was a funeral parlour and there were coffins parked upright either side of the door, flanking the man on the telephone laughing with great abandon.
"I didn't have a camera with me in South America, so I am not sure that this comes within the category of unprepared, but I can still hear the shutter clicking on my non-existant camera."
Featured Comment by Peter Rees: "About 15 years ago, I was on a slow boat journey through central Myanmar. We were moving at a stately pace through the pre-dawn gloom along the broad Irrawaddy River. On the left bank, a magnificent white temple loomed up—domes, gold spires, the works. I snapped off a humdrum pic of the temple against some pale orange clouds. The boat drifted around a bend in the river, and at the same moment, the sun burst into view behind the temple—multi-hued rays arcing across the sky, gold spires ablaze, sky alight in rich reds and purples.
"At that moment I could hear two things above the hum of the boat's engines: one, the awed gasp of the passengers; and two, the mosquito whirr of my camera's auto rewind: a sound that haunts my dreams to this day."
ADDENDUM: Maybe I could be forgiven for quoting myself here. From an article called "The Magic Bullet," under the header "You Suck! (Me, Too)":
To be honest, most of my pictures suck. The saving grace of that admission is that most of your pictures suck, too. How could I possibly know such a thing? Because most of everybody's pictures suck, that's how. I've seen Cartier-Bresson's contact sheets, and most of his pictures sucked. One of my teachers said that it was an epiphany for him when he took a class from Garry Winogrand and learned that most of Winogrand's exposures sucked. It's the way it is. —MJ
Featured Comment by Rod S: "Yes, this post reminds me of some very spectacular alignments of crepuscular rays ("godbeams") with structures that I was not quick enough to photograph. And each day I see many street shots pass me during my speed walk from the bus stop to my workplace: an alignment; a surprised face, a look of love between two young lovers. However, I have learned to be kinder to myself than I once was, and simply enjoy those moments of joy right there and then. Indeed, the act of seeing these moments is a real gift of my practice in photography, which I might not otherwise enjoy. Who can tell?
"Rather than beat myself up on the many images that flow unrecorded past me, I'd rather enjoy then anyway and celebrate those few that I do manage to catch. Life is better when it is lived and enjoyed."
Mike replies: Very true. The fact that we try to photograph fleeting moments at some times makes us more aware of visual experiences all the time—and it makes the special experiences more memorable. That's nothing to complain about.