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Thursday, 28 April 2016


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"Getting lucky" happens more often to those who are actively out and about than those who do not work at their craft.

I was thinking of commenting on the previous post, but this other-side-of-the-coin is what I was thinking. We miss most of the possible good photos, but then every one we get is a blessing, a combination of factors our own readiness, capability, gear, openness, availability to grace.

Mike, watch out for mice in your barn if you have prints there!

Serendipity is the cornerstone of the Blind Squirrel School of Photography, of which I am a Founding Member. The philosophy of the Blind Squirrel School of Photography is, even a blind squirrel can find a walnut, every now and again.

With best regards,


The Roman philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

As I wrote in an article titled "The Serendipity Factor" for "Rangefinder Magazine" about 15 years ago:

"Have you noticed that some photographers seem to have a monopoly on luck? Or at the very least, a downright uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.

But is it really luck--or chance--or fate? Partly, perhaps, but I think there's something else involved as well. Something I call the serendipity factor. It has been responsible for many of my best photographs, and I believe you can learn to use it to improve your photography also.

According to Mr. Webster, serendipity is 'an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally.' I can't do much about controlling fate, maybe, but I've found serendipity to be a most agreeable muse, and one who can be courted by the photographer who is willing to spend some time with her. In fact, it takes only three things to win her favor: preparation, presence, and awareness.

First, prepare. Simply carrying a camera (loaded with film and ready to shoot, of
course) is the most basic form of preparedness. The more advance thought you give to such matters as the equipment you're likely to need, the kinds of subjects you may encounter, the probable lighting conditions, and possible problems which may arise, the more likely it is that serendipity will bestow her favors upon you.

Second, presence. Or to put it more simply, be there. Old-time press photographers used to say that the key to great pictures is "f8 and be there!" But where is there? I don't know. You'll have to find that out for yourself. But I can tell you this: if you're enjoying a leisurely breakfast at your hotel in Bangkok as the sun rises and the streets begin to come alive with people, you're not there. There is out on the street, taking advantage of that glorious light and the relaxed, early-morning mood of the people.

Where's there? There is anywhere things are happening. 'Theres' are infinite in number and you can't cover them all, but if you pick one and pursue it good things will
happen. If you want to meet serendipity you must go where she is.

Third, be aware. Let yourself be loose and sensitive to the things and people around you. You can't do this if you're uptight or in a hurry, so slow down and tune in. The great French photojournalist Robert Doisneau, who had more encounters with serendipity in a month than most of have in a lifetime, said 'My way of working is to relax and take things slowly. I enjoy just wasting time...I believe I have gained most in life in those moments in which I simply wandered about without any fixed purpose in mind.'

Prepare, be there, and be aware--and serendipity will find you. And you'll find that the more diligent you are in practicing these three things, the luckier you will become."

Is there also a third class of photograph - the shots you took deliberately, knew what you were doing, knew what you were going to get, but which at the time you didn't think to be the best of the day. Then you get home and start processing and realise that's the pick of the bunch. That happens to me quite a lot.

Storing photographic prints in a [presumably un-climate controlled] barn does not strike me as a particularly good idea. Unless they're in Pelican cases that were packed when there happened to be 25% humidity in the surrounding air.

I agree that there is a lot of luck involved in photography, but you press the shutter deliberately, so there's that.

You need to search for one of your serendipitous, yet successful, shots? What about the one hanging over my desk?

[Cool! :-) --Mike]

Funny to read this at the end of the day. I was out shooting with two models and a client in tow. We were "showing off" (advertising for) at belt with an techy-Austrian made buckle. We has some locations picked out but on the way there we kept stumbling on to better and better ones. Near the end of the shoot our male model made a shoulder strap out of one of the belts to use on a Yeti cooler. Easy to carry for the client. But a funny use of a belt. The models thought up a scenario of them being in the park, ostensibly on a date, with the woman carrying the heavy cooler while the man walks next to her, empty handed. She finally sets the cooler down; irritation showing on her face. The male talent would then whip his belt off and fashion it into a shoulder strap for the cooler. He would then hand the cooler back to his "date" and they would proceed. As luck would have it we had brought along a video camera and were about to block out the entire scenario and shoot it in minutes. Might be the most fun "work" video I've ever done. Luck comes from listening to other people and being ready to collaborate with them. Luck comes from constantly trying new stuff.

From your title, I thought for sure that it would be the ones that got away from backup failure or lack there of.

In to days digital world 2x or more backup is essential if you want to keep the ones you got.


I've often thought of (much) photography as being a lot like hunting. You go out, armed with some expectations and prior knowledge and hunches, and if you are fortunate and equipped to react instinctively and quickly (and sometimes not quite so quickly) you can adapt and take advantage of what you find.

The majority of factors that create the majority of photographs (studio work somewhat excepted) are factors that the photographer cannot truly control.

Here's my lucky catch.

I was prepared to capture long-exposure images of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle as they flew across the night sky. What I was expecting was two points of light moving across the sky.

What I got was completely unexpected as the Shuttle was venting its tanks in preparation for its re-entry and return to Earth.

The photo ended up on several space and educational web sites including SpaceWeather.com.


I like Yonatan's pigeon picture very much. A bit unusually the pigeons actually look graceful and almost beautiful. The colour palette is great too.

Galen Rowell's excellent Mountain Light, which I repeatedly recommend, has a whole chapter on the nature of luck in his photography. In some sense Rowell's whole working method is designed to be able to take maximum advantage of luck when it comes your way.

Off the top of my head I can think of two favorites that were pretty lucky. The first


because I had driven into the national park for sunrise, and got the best picture of the day hours later from the hotel parking lot. And the second


just because it happened right in front of me and I had the phone.

Side thought: I think a lot of photographic writing frowns upon a style of shooting derisively called "spray and pray", the implication being that if you knew what you were doing you could always just shoot single perfect frames of everything. But I think this is misguided. If you perceive that you are in a good situation it behooves you to take as many attempts as possible at getting something good. Take maximum advantage of your fortune because it does not come around a lot.

Thank you very much for calling-out that William Albert Allard video, Joseph. Wow, what a real gem of the voice of sage experience and quiet accomplishment. (BTW, anyone that wants to see the National Geographic style of documentary done at its highest level should get a copy of William Albert Allard: Five Decades.)

Serendipity is one of the joys of photography for me. But serendipity plus Bonus* is even better!! I could show examples all day (I’m generally the proverbial “Blind Hog”) but here is one of my favorite examples of images I have online.

I was hanging around Chicago’s Daley Plaza on a warm late-summer afternoon in 2013. I had been watching a woman in a wonderful red dress feeding pigeons near the Picasso sculpture and I sat on a bench and placed my camera just inches off the ground to capture her in front of the brown sculpture. Here’s the “serendipity”: As I snapped one frame a man walked in front of the camera. The darkness of the man’s near-silhouette combined with the woman’s posture created an image suggesting a underway. The pigeons added a further sprinkling of fun to the scene. I was elated with what I knew I had captured.

But now here comes the “Bonus”. I knew that there was a man doing some kind of exercises around the sculpture. You can see his shoes in the far left of that first frame but he is out of sight. I continued to snap a few more frames as the walking man and most of the pigeons cleared the scene and the woman paused. But I soon moved along. Only much later did I discover that that exercising man’s arm had dropped into view from behind the sculpture in one of those last frames!

It made for a perfect diptych of that mysterious sequence. The two frames have become inseparable.

You can view these images at larger sizes starting here in my online gallery.

* Bonus: Something in an image — an object, a gesture, a shadow, etc. — not discovered in an image at the time of capture but which tremendously elevates the image’s impact and visual value.

I usually go for a late afternoon walk along the cliff path near my house. It's a picturesque boardwalk that wanders along the cliff line at varying heights of around 20-40' above the ocean. When there are big seas you can get wet from the spray thrown up by waves breaking on the rocks below. I always carry a camera - on this occasion it was a small Leica IIIc with Industar-61 lens, loaded with BW400CN.

Mostly it's uneventful, just a friendly mix of joggers and dog-walkers and ordinary people out for a stroll. But this time people were stopping to look at the reckless acts of bravado from a group of young teenage boys who were jumping off the cliff into the ocean below. It's an incredibly dangerous thing to do - they were clearing the rock platform below by a matter of inches, and there are underwater rocks as well. I took a few pictures including this one, when they noticed me and decided to move on.

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