“Getting the Shot: Part 1″


Several months ago a prospective client approached me with a few questions.

OK, that’s what I’m here for. Ask away.

“Do you do scenic photography?” he asked.

“Sure, what do you have mind,” I replied.

“Like nature photography,” he said, “Scenery.”

“Did you want a piece of property photographed? Or did you want me to accompany you on a hike through the woods.”

“We’d like a shot of the falls,” he said. “Like this one,” he added pointing to the image on a brochure.

Now, I wasn’t going to go too far down that path. It would probably have been pointless.

It had been a dry summer. There wasn’t much water trickling over the falls. The time of year was wrong. If there was water and the time of year was right, it would have been tough to duplicate the light.

“I think you can buy prints of that photograph. Or ones a lot like it,” I said.

Every photographer knows, you can return to the same spot at the same time of day, at the same time of year and ‘the shot’ will be different. You keep taking them, waiting for “the one.”

I’m reminded of butterflies on a ring bearer’s shoulders. Private moments willingly exposed to my camera, looks of surprise or exaltation on people’s faces and the combination of joy and pride in parent’s eyes.

Except perhaps in commercial photography, such as real estate and catalog work, the camera records. The photographer is there to decide what. But the ‘what’ is generally beyond our control.

When I’ve done product photography, I’ve been able to control every aspect from position and light to angle. At the high end, real estate is filmed or photographed with measures taken to control both artificial and natural light. But in live events, or nature, we are there to pick, point, prepare and press the button.

I was reminded of this last week when Associated Press Photographer Burhan Ozbilici captured those frightful images of a gunman’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov.

“I’m a journalist,” wrote Ozbilici in an essay for the AP. “I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos, but I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later asked me – why didn’t you take pictures?”

I disagree. Fear for one’s life would be answer. There are others.

But I admire the path he took. The photos are chilling. They look like stills from a movie set. The horror on the faces of onlookers is real.

Ironically, the Ankara art gallery in which the photos of the murder were taken, was exhibiting a collection of photographs, and Ozbilici was apparently in attendance as a spectator.

This speaks to another point.

Capturing ‘the shot,’ means being prepared. Presumably off duty, this AP photographer still had a camera at the ready. It’s why news photographers (and videographers) keep gear in the trunks of their cars – in case they happen upon the next big accident or fire close to the moment of impact, so to speak.

If you’ve ever watched the nightly news and wondered why the reporter is still standing outside the yellow police tape for the 11 o’clock report, ask yourself if they’re overcompensating for not getting ‘the shot’ of the flames ripping through the roof earlier in the day.

It’s like a shot of the scorched earth where the conflagration occurred, or a splatter of blood where the ambassador’s body previously laid. Those both tell a story, but not in the way being there in the moment does.

Personally, enjoy photographing the occasional waterfall. But I’m pretty sure, if it’s that shot the guy wanted, prints are available – and the photographer selling them deserves to the sale.


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