What word best describes a scene is so perfect you feel the photo gods are smiling on you? I call that serendipity–when all the elements align for that perfect but unexpected result. How can you make sure you are ready when serendipity happens?As a photographer out in the field, I constantly scan the scene, not only for compositional elements, but also for the decisive moment. That’s the moment I press the shutter button to record the unique story, mood or event. These moments often feel like serendipity.
Components of a Decisive Moment Photograph
- Composition – excellent composition
- Figure to Ground relationship – backgrounds contribute to the composition and are generally in focus.
- Closure – assumes humans desire closure, anticipating or seeking to complete a visual figure; therefore the anticipation of the man about to step in the puddle serves to draw the viewer into the image.
- Ambiguity – leaving an event suspended in time
- Capturing a unique moment – the fleeting moment that is brief and serendipitous
- One chance – there is only a single instance of the moment ever occurring
- Real life situations – not contrived or staged
- Meaning/emotion – the subjectivity of the photographer helps give the image meaning
Preparing for the Shot
How do you ensure you are prepared to to take that once in a lifetime shot when serendipity strikes?
- Know how to use your camera well enough that you can quickly change settings. I shoot almost exclusively in aperture priority mode. This relieves me from worrying about setting the shutter speed. Coupled with Auto ISO, all I have to think about as far as exposure is my aperture and any exposure compensation.
- Be observant. Take the camera away from your face and look around. Take stock of what is happening or sometimes, what is not. It is easy to get tunnel vision and miss a photo op.
- Learn to anticipate: where clouds are moving to, how a butterfly often returns to the same flower, when a bird is about to take flight, when the runner might slide into home, etc.
- Rather than just shooting away, envision the kind of photo you want to make and then look for ways to to get it. Take a moment to survey the scene for compositional element. What might serve as a strong foreground? Is there anything you want to avoid? Any structures that could serve as a frame? Are there leading lines?
- Move. Often squatting or standing on an object provides a unique perspective. Sometimes the best shot is behind you! Some of my most memorable travel photos are of the ground in front of me.
Lastly, as you are working to capture your vision, keep watching for the unexpected.