the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



HUMILITY IN AN ARTIST IS NOT ONLY ADMIRABLE, but, for purposes of growth, absolutely essential.

We’re not talking here about a kind of polite, “aw shucks” modesty, which is usually staged for the benefit of others anyway. No, being humble does not mean disowning honest achievement, in photography or any other field. It consists of putting a dot on a line to show your position, where you stand versus where you stood and where you need to eventually stand. And in the making of images, as with many other endeavors, it’s about acknowledging that some of your worst failures and your best successes alike are totally accidental.

When shooting in the moment, conditions converge in milliseconds to either push us forward to completion or block us utterly from it. The losses are easy to see as “rotten luck” that we somehow didn’t deserve but can learn from. However, it’s the unearned wins, the pictures that fall into our lap despite everything, that truly aid the ripening of humility. We get great shots that we didn’t, in some way, “deserve”, although that’s an odd way to phrase it. And, in our gratitude for our occasional (and inexplicable) fortune, we can really learn something about not taking ourselves too bloody seriously.

Wood Duck EFthis male wood duck was the gods’ gift to your humble author, on a day on which I could certainly use one.

This duck is luck, and nothing more. It’s more clearly described as a sort of inheritance.

There is no other way to describe the success of this picture. I did, certainly, travel to his regular habitat with the intention of shooting him, but any vain thought I had of proceeding from a deliberate plan or program evaporated when I finally caught a glimpse of him. Within seconds of his calmly sailing out of his secluded lair under a large shrub, he became part of a blurry mob of hunger-crazed mallards who thronged around him in a desperate bid for food that had been tossed into the pond by a kind visitor. The frame you see here was a desperate and quick click just insta-seconds before the starting pistol, and there was only time for this one frame.

Certainly, other attempts were made, once the melee ensued, but, trust me, they were as appallingly fruitless as this one shot was miraculous. This was not a case of my lifetime of experience and instinct coming to the fore in a grand blend of skill and judgement. This was click-like-your-life-depends-on-it- and-hope-like-hell. The important thing is to accept the fact that all the stars and planets lined up correctly and gave you a goodie, and that all your preparation and focus could be surpassed in a second by something this random. If that doesn’t inspire humility, then you’re probably beyond hope.

Part of artistry is embracing the ineffable quality of not being in total control, of being worked by the process as well as working it. Because once you know how little you are actually in charge, then you actually stand a chance of being used in a meaningful way. Whether it’s the flautists’s breath or the flute itself that makes the music, the melody is just as sweet, and keeping score of who’s the boss in an artistic endeavor is beyond useless.


2 responses

  1. Lake Effect

    Well written Michael, and I believe that is at least partially why I love photography. If Wood ducks in your experience are as skittish as they are in Indiana, that makes this shot even more “aligned with the stars”. I have been know to hide behind shrubs, when I see them slowly coming across the water….and hope the shutter quickly does its job when they get within range. Lovely duck …. luck or not.

    February 2, 2022 at 2:00 PM

    • Thanks so much! I have been monitoring what seems like dozens of sightings of this guy over the last few months, so I had to head out and have a go. Think I’ll quit while I’m ahead!

      February 2, 2022 at 2:11 PM

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