I don’t always know what I’m going to photograph until I photograph it, and it’s never so much about setting up the shot as it is about capturing life in progress, nature in its natural state. And I don’t care about the picture’s technical correctness but instead about how it makes me feel later.
Many of my photographer friends produce breathtaking images, much of it eliciting my jealousy for their skills and their access to that which eludes me. Each of these people has a singular gift which translates into a signature, an impression felt as much as seen when their work is viewed.
But I hear so much about how to “setup the shot” so the picture is technically correct—rule of thirds and bokeh and all. Nevertheless I’m left to wonder how much life goes by unnoticed while they’re setting up the shot.
I’ve tried that method before, yes, and it can from time to time produce exquisite imagery that might otherwise have eluded capture, yet each time I focused on the mechanics of the thing, in the back of my mind I knew the meaning of the thing escaped me, for nature just happens, not posed or staged or manipulated, but rather real and visceral and now.
I don’t mean technically correct images leave me feeling little or nothing. On the contrary, often they grab my attention, cause my heart to skip a beat, catch the breath in my chest, leave me awestruck and inspired.
Yet inevitably they leave me wondering. Not about what the image shows, mind you. No, I’m left to wonder about what the image doesn’t show, what might have been, what remained unseen and, therefore, unappreciated.
The ubiquitous can be unique when caught in unexpected framing, the mundane can be marvelous when caught in the right light, and the everyday can be extraordinary when caught demonstrating life in progress. Because—let’s face it—nature doing its thing, to me at least, is far more compelling than nature in a perfect image.
So unplanned and ad hoc, I will continue to photograph the wasp who turns her head to look at me, and that even if I’m unprepared. I will continue to snap pictures of everything I see, and that even if I already have a million pictures of the same thing. And I will continue to take notice of whatever nature throws my way, and that even if nature gives me no time to prepare, to plan, to setup the shot.
Because I’ve learned over many years that, with photos licensed for field guides and dissertations and government presentations and whatnot, when it comes right down to it, nature never shows the same face twice. At least not when you’re willing to see it in whatever form it takes and at whatever angle it displays.
Besides, photography should never be about technically correct images but instead about seeing old things in new ways and new things in memorable ways, or at least that’s what I think.
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- Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
- Swift setwing (Dythemis velox)
- Female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)
- Female great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans)
- Male Texas oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha huasteca) in the back of my uncle’s truck
- Female slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) perched on a barbwire fence
- Female square-headed wasp (Tachytes sp.) on an old pipe
- Crepuscular rays from a distant thunderstorm at sunset