the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Even the pictures that come up short can teach you more than the ones you never make.

Even the pictures you attempt that come up short can teach you more than the ones you never make.


IN MY CHILDHOOD, I FIRST HEARD THE BIBLICAL PARABLE OF THE SHEPHERD who, upon finding that one of his flock of one hundred sheep had gone missing, forsook the other ninety-nine to undertake a desperate search for the single lost lamb. It was, certainly, a touching story, with its image of a father who would mourn over the loss of even the most wayward of his flock. And, although it didn’t occur to me at the time, it also came to serve as an early model for my idea of a photographer.

It’s not really that big a stretch. Like the shepherd, shooters always mourn the loss of the one that got away, or in terms of photographs, the shot that was never made. The one angle we forgot to foresee, the light we failed to read, the fleeting truth we neglected to capture. For sure, the photos you attempted and botched really do smart, a lot. A lot a lot. However, there is no pain like the emotional toothache caused by the shots that, for whatever reason, you never even tried to make. These aren’t “lost” images, since they never actually existed, but that doesn’t mean that their absence is any less poignant. One great recent examination of why we fail to shoot is found in a recent collection of essays by Will Steacy called Photographs Not Taken. Check out a capsule review of it here.

I lament the pictures I never made far more than the ones I have attempted and whiffed, since in most cases the contexts that surrounded those non-existent pics are, themselves, no longer, whether we’re talking about missed sunrises or final visits with loved ones. To be sure, re-dos are often off the table even for many of the pictures we did take, but, for some human reason, we mourn more intensely the ones that might have been. Worse yet, even failed images have some teaching value, whereas you learn zilch from the dances that you sat out.

This forum has never been about merely posting my greatest hits for the world to drool over. That is scrapbooking, and serves no purpose. Any honest examination of why we make images has to pause to grieve about failed chances, to sniffle a bit over the things we aimed at and missed. It sometimes has to be about pictures that I hate, and the ones I hate most are the ones I had neither the vision nor the nerve to create.


2 responses

  1. Erin

    What are some examples of pictures you regret not taking?

    October 30, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    • Most of them fall into the category of lost opportunities….like visits with friends that, at the time, you don’t know are your final visits with them, forever. Also, the shots that you simply didn’t explore enough when traveling to places that are impossible to return to. In 2002, for example, I fulfilled a lifelong dream in finally seeing Ireland, but I can think now of how, by trying just one more approach, I might have transformed some very snapshot-y stuff into really personal pieces of work. And then there is the subject that, while it’s right there in front of you, just doesn’t impress you as worthy of any special effort, but which, later, you finally “get”. Most frustrating are the ones that you’ll never have the chance to take, because of time or circumstances. Like, I would have given my left leg to have been in Times Square in the ’40’s, the day it was announced that the war in Europe was over, or in Paris in 1927 the day that Lindbergh landed.

      October 30, 2014 at 11:47 PM

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