One that Got Away

Action Photography: My Luck Fails Me

There exists an unforgettable element of photography that nature photographers have to rely on more than they care to admit.   This element is Luck and it follows no known rules.  It is the hardest and most heart-breaking part of photography.  Some photographers tell you that luck doesn’t exist and you have to make it happen.  In my experience, those people are generally studio photographers who have complete control over their environment.  Truly, in a studio, they are correct.

However, in an outdoor setting you do not get to dictate when something happens.  The best you can do is gamble on your settings and hope for best.  Now that is best said with a slight disclaimer.  Obviously, you can cheat luck a little by knowing how to set your camera for a cloudy or sunny day.  Knowing how to set the shutter speed when taking pictures of birds and other animals is also crucial.

In short, there exists defined methods to follow that allow you to increase the odds of you winning when luck comes knocking on your door.   However, when shooting outside you have to rely on things that are also out of your control.

Such is the case with our picture of the day.  No, this one is not for sale.  I saved it as a friendly little reminder that a photographer can do everything according to his plan and yet still fail and learn from that failure.

I was in a garden taking pictures of flowers and some birds when the opportunity presented itself.  I had my camera at a 1/25 of a second exposure due to a blowing wind of about 15 mph.  This setting is enough to take snaps of flowers or stems that tend to move in the wind and prevent a nice close focused shot.

While walking to the next flowerbed a heard a rustle under a bush near my foot.  I’ve already learned that when you hear something like leaves moving or see a movement in the underbrush your best chance for a good shot of an animal is to freeze.   So, standing absolutely still I saw a little field mouse.   Why, WHAT LUCK!  Living in a city like Dallas, you can easily pass a hundred of these little critters and never know they were there.  I had to get a picture of it.

I pulled up the camera, quickly focused in and snap.   I did not have time to set my composition, correct my light settings, worry about the f-stop, and discover my perfect aperture setting or any of that stuff.  I had a second to react, and I spent it bringing the camera to my face.   As I clicked, he moved.  I’ve discovered a couple of lessons by this.

  1. Mice are FAST!..   I mean 1/25 of a second was too slow.
  2. Mice don’t stand still for long.
  3. Next time use a higher speed if it’s possible.  They are fast; I must become faster.
  4. Learn to live with luck to not make the mice move during their cameo experience.
  5. Persistence pays off.

Anyone have a similar experience about the one that got away?

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4 thoughts on “Action Photography: My Luck Fails Me”

  1. Yes, things can happen when you are unprepared. ISO in wrong range, set to shutter priority with a slow shutter speed, wide angle lens when the action requires a longer focal length, as well as several others, including a full card, a low battery, a smudge on the lens or dust on the sensor. These not only happen to amateurs, but professionals are also vulnerable.

    The best way to approach the situation is with an assessment of what can happen, anticipation of what is likely to happen, then preparing your camera to the settings you determine to be appropriate.

    Remember, things where you are happen all the time. They were happening before you got there, and will happen after you leave. Your chance to capture the action the way you want to is to anticipate, set and then wait with all the patience you can muster. That’s when your luck will go your way, and you will capture that magic moment.

    1. I agree with you. Sometimes you just have to wait. I tried with the mouse, but alas he moved into the deep bush and I lost him.

      Also, often I’ll see a picture with a bison or deer in the deep snow out in a pasture and I’ll think to myself. ” Man, that’s one cold photographer.” Knowing they were out in that snow for 2 days getting that shot.

  2. My bit bucket is filled with wonderful shots of where a creature was a moment before the shutter tripped. I work through all the techno stuff and plan my shooting positions carefully. But 90% of my really good shots are basically pure dumb luck.

    1. I met a National Geography Photographer once who told me that he takes almost 10,000 picts every assignment (6 months-year). Out of those 10,000 he might get 30 that are worthy of publishing. This is why I don’t feel so bad about missing that “one” shot. 🙂

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