Week 7 – Chance and Serendipity, Creative Restraint

Do you see chance as a key part photography? To what extent does it play a role in your own practice? How might you develop your work by embracing change or making new opportunities? What arbitrary parameters might you impose upon yourself to expand the creative possibilities of your own work?  

These are all questions asked in this week’s lessons.  In my practice and throughout most of my photographic experiences I would say chance and serendipity have played and continue to play a significant role.  I have always and still do shoot almost exclusively out of doors.  That alone introduces one of the biggest factors of chance, the light.  Is it there, what is its quality, am I in a position to use the light to its best advantage?  Yes, it is possible to preplan and to position oneself where the angle of the light is optimized, and watch the weather forecasts with the hope of getting it right, but in the end whether it all comes together is a matter of chance and beyond the control of the photographer.

When photographing wildlife, there is a great measure of chance and serendipity in play at all times.  Again planning a preparation can improve one’s chances, but in the end it is just a matter of chance whether something, anything, you might want to photograph will show up, and if it does whether it will be in a position that allows a good image to be captured.

I don’t find that I am at all fussed by these elements of chance and serendipity.  I have  always been drawn to the interactions of colour, light and patterns.  It is to an extent, a basic biological phenomenon of vision, but a talent to recognize in a timely manner the significance in any given moment.  For a photographer it is essential to be able to recognize those instances quickly and have the skill with one’s equipment to take advantage of the opportunity.  I believe this to be true whether one is doing street, sports, nature, reportage and likely other genres of which I have yet to think.

The concept of boundaries is an interesting one and deserves thought and discussion.  Art Morris, in his book The Art of Bird Photography and in instructional videos he has done, suggests when photographing birds to confine your field of intention to a 15 degree wedge in front of you with the sun directly behind to get the optimum lighting conditions for good bird photographs.  I find in areas I work frequently that set up is often difficult or impossible to achieve, and that I as a consequence endeavor to cover too broad a field of intention.  I think it might be wise to slow down, be more patient at times and accept that for the truly remarkable photograph, I might need to wait longer for the subject to come to me and the light to be right.  I think sometimes I have succumbed to the desire to get the shot, but as I have become more skilled, I need slow down to a degree and work to get the best shot possible.

I also believe I have been operating principally on the self imposed constraint influenced by so much of the wildlife photography I have seen over the years of creating portraits of birds.  This is true also because I never gave much thought until now of contextualizing my work and only sought to take good photographs as stand alone objects.  Now that I need to consider context, I am beginning to realize there may be other ways to tell a natural history story and the portraiture is only one piece.

MORRIS, A., 2003. The Art of Bird Photography. 1 edn. New York: Amphoto books.


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