Have you ever had anyone look at one of your images and say: “you were lucky to get that shot” ? I have, and it got me thinking about luck when it comes to photography.  Actually, it’s not luck it is….

Luck and Preparation

I think the best way to illustrate the difference and the relationship between the two is to do it by telling the story of three very different images.

Belly-Dancer Outfits

The first image was taken in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.  We were on holiday and sitting in one of the main squares.  On the far side of the square I could see shop selling belly-dancer costumes and I realised that it would make a great shot.  I got out my long lens and took a shot.  It was boring.  I realised immediately that what the image needed was a person walking past.  So I waited.

That is preparation: putting yourself in the right place so that you can get the image you are trying to create.  But it is more than just being in the right place, it is about identifying the subject, and picking the right bit of kit and settings to make the shot you have in mind.

I waited for a suitable person to walk by, I waited about 10 – 15 mins.  Then I spotted the ideal person, an Arab woman dressed in black, wearing a hijab.  This was such a contrast to the costumes in the shop that I knew it would make a great image.

Where luck came into it – was as she passed the shop, she turned her head to look at the sexy, revealing costumes.  Click!  I had my shot.  Preparation and luck.

Windows in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

This was a couple of days after the previous image.  It was the shadows of the grills in front of the windows that I wanted to capture.  I positioned myself so that the camera was horizontal to the wall to avoid converging horizontals and converging verticals, and took a couple of shots.  The image wasn’t working.  More than anything it lacked a sense of scale.   Like the previous shot, I knew I needed to wait for a person walking past.  This time I didn’t have to wait so long.

Luck was getting a person who fitted the scene.  He has an Arab appearance but he is dressed in jeans and sweatshirt and he is looking at this phone.  This makes a contrast between the traditional architecture and the modern person.

Preparation was being there and being willing to wait.  Luck was a person that worked perfectly for the image.

The Fire

This is perhaps not what you think.  It is NOT a policeman and a fireman discussing the incident they are attending.  It is actually TWO policemen at a local bonfire night event.

Like the previous image there was a lot of preparation involved in making this image.

I knew I wanted to create a silhouette image at the bonfire.  I did a few test shots to get the exposure right for the flames, knowing then that whatever was in front of the flames would be a silhouette.  I then spent a while walking around the bonfire looking for people that would form interesting outlines for the image.

That was when I spotted the two policemen.  Unlike previous images I then had very little time, I got three shots off the final one the PC in the traditional helmet turned to his colleague.  Click.  Got it!  The helmet looks like a fireman’s helmet at that angle.  That was the element of luck that made the image.  But the time I tried to take another shot the moment had passed and the two men had moved apart.

It was luck that enabled me to get the image in that brief moment.  But that luck would have meant for nothing, had I not done the preparation of setting the camera up for photographing silhouettes and actively gone out looking for suitable subjects.

Conclusion

Luck and preparation go hand in hand in photography.  The more you prepare, the more you practice the luckier you will be.  The more you put yourself in the places where ‘lucky’ shots are possible the better the chance are that you will get a ‘lucky’ shot.

So until next time, have a great Christmas and be ‘lucky’ as you MAKE great photographs.

Ian.