Wonderful unexpected picture possibilities can occur any time during a photo shoot. I’ve noticed that they appear while I’m already in the process of taking a picture or while I'm setting up for a new shot. When an opportunity shows itself, this is what comes next:
Here are some examples of what I believe to be intriguing shots that came along quite unexpectedly.
Darla was joking with her daughter, Laurette. Having worked with them before, and knowing how wonderful an actor the girl was, I knew worthy things were on their way. I framed the shot and waited. Laurette was saying that her mother’s nose scared her (I don’t know how serious she was about that). When this interaction happened, I took the picture. Laurette's expression was perfect. It seems to show both fear and amusement. Also, each set of hands seems to show conflicting intentions - one pair reaches either lovingly or threateningly while the other pair emphasizes either anxiety or joy.
I was watching Kelly fix-up her daughter's hair. There was lots of energy flowing between the two. I knew if I paid attention, I’d be rewarded with some good photos. I wasn’t disappointed. The above image was far and away the best of the series. Both faces are vibrant, and the intensity of their excitement is wonderful.
A pet, usually a cat or dog, wondering onto the set can cause havoc or great picture possibilities. If the animal is fairly calm, is in an area of the set that works compositionally, and doesn’t have its butt facing the camera, the results can be rewarding.
For this picture of Meredith, I placed her alone against a wall and got ready to shoot. After a few moments, her cat wandered in. I waited to see what it would do. He began rubbing himself against her leg. Combined with the blindfolded Meredith, I think the result was an odd and amusing image. (”Odd” and “amusing”-a great combination for almost any picture). The presence of the cat, I believe, significantly improved my original shot idea.
Here’s another photo where the subject’s pet wandered into the shooting area. What’s noteworthy about this image is that we get a decent view of its face. And what’s truly amazing is how the cat’s position blocks part of the strobe illumination perfectly, creating a light pattern that dramatically highlights the model’s eyes.
My plan for the first of these two photographs was to have Anabel on the bed alone, with the “Private Property” sign covering her chest. As I was preparing to take the picture, however, the dog jumped up. I held off shooting for a moment, waiting to see what would happen. I’m glad I did. He ended up looking as if he was reading the sign. Then, as can be seen in the second photo, and to both our amazements, he began crawling under the top sheet. By the way, Anabel’s open-mouth surprise was quite real.
Joanna and I were photographing in an almost empty parking lot at a local beach. During a break, Joanna had turned and was adjusting her hair. Almost at the same moment, a car pulled up. I saw a perfect photo opportunity and quickly snapped a picture. I loved the results: a sparse composition showing a young woman and a car, both nicely positioned in this parking lot. Every time I look at this image, I wonder why the person in the car stopped right where he did. Perhaps to ogle Joanna?
When all the elements unexpectedly come together to produce a great shot, and when I had very little or no part in making that happen, I think of that image as a “gift”. I’ve read about other photographers using that same term when they’ve had the same experience. It’s in those moments, when the photographer is completely out of the equation, that the gods above have grabbed the reins and taken charge.
In the book “Looking At Photographs”, John Szarkowski writes about the famous photographer Jacob A. Riis: “Suffice it to say that Riis did not, through pride, reject chance; he knew the habits and habitat of the photographer’s luck, and he did his best to make himself available to its gifts.”