the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



THE OLD ADAGE ABOUT LIFE BEING WHAT HAPPENS WHILE YOU’RE BUSY MAKING PLANS also seems like a perfect fit for the act of photography. Certainly we love to take bows for our best work, and to let the myth persist that what’s hanging on the wall is exactly what we were going after in the first place. Well, I use the word “myth”. I actually mean “convenient lie”.

The scientist in us loves to keep alive the belief that we are in charge of our lives, that all our great results are the inevitable outcome of brilliant foresight and faultless planning. But the photographer side of us, the more instinctual half of our nature, knows how much luck and randomness figure into the mix. Yes, we came back with a great shot of C, but only after our “perfect” concepts of A and B fell flat.


Several weeks ago, I went birding with a small group into a marshy area near Show Low, Arizona. The water was all part of a reclamation project that created the illusion of a large pond/small river in what is typically semi-desert, and the entire local landscape was transformed, because of the extra moisture, with reedy banks, plentiful supplies of yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, and, well, bugs. A bleeding swarm of infinitesimal insects which are a huge Happy meal for the flycatchers in the area, but which also fill the hair, eyes and mouths of any, well, non-birds in the area.

Which is where my plan A fell apart.

Yes, O logical side, we will, as expected, be taking pictures of shorebirds and the shores that host them. Easy call. But, oof, here comes the photographer side, the instinctual guy, who now wants to make a bug picture. But how? Everything is awash in early morning sun, which renders the swarm all but invisible. They are so thick that they may make even carefully focused pictures look soft, as if I had a diffusion filter attached to my lens. The only way, then, to at least suggest the look of the plague was to aim at the darkest thing I could find, which turned out to be a small copse of free-standing trees further inland from the water and standing in their own shade. At least I had enough of a picture to suggest my new, revised main message, to wit: man, there’s a  &%$ton of bugs here. 

And so it goes. Planner Me begins with a startup scheme. No-Plan Me eventually straggles with another viewpoint. And the eternal question of “who’s in charge here” for a given picture changes on a whim, or around whatever might be, sorry, bugging me at the moment.


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