Serendipity, part two

Getting back to my ruminations on serendipity in photography, which I began the other day: I’m learning that what makes photography difficult as an art is bridging the disconnect between what the eye perceives and what the camera captures. We’ve all had that experience, haven’t we? We see something amazing, and we take a quick photo of it–doesn’t matter what kind of device we use–and later on we look at the picture and we’re disappointed. Why? Because it just didn’t look like that.

I’ve been realizing of late that often the point isn’t to capture what it looked like to the eye. It’s to capture something and then manipulate it until it approaches what we think the eye saw.

That’s important. We don’t really remember what our eyes saw at any given moment. Any good trial lawyer knows this: eyewitness testimony is rarely reliable. We go to a place we haven’t been in a long while, and we realize that it doesn’t match up our memories of what it looked like. So, when editing a photo, the point isn’t to capture exactly what the eye saw, it’s to suggest for someone else what our eyes saw. And that might mean introducing some less-than-perfectly-accurate factors, like shifting colors, adding more light to a place that had a little less, tweaking colors, applying vignette where there obviously was none.

Back to my photowalk the other day at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor: I was down there fairly early in the day, when the light was soft and diffuse; there were low-hanging clouds, but not so many as to make the day actually cloudy. There were breaks in the clouds that allowed pools of sunlight to shine down on certain things here or there, and one such spot was the seawall that separates the Harbor from the open water of Lake Erie. Most of the seawall was gray and nondistinct, but there was one place where the seawall was lit bright by the sun through the break in the clouds.

But how to photograph that? I couldn’t figure a way to do it that wouldn’t result in a pretty boring photograph of blue water, a narrow line of sunlit rock, and blue-ish sky above. I took a couple test photos, and each was boring. I tried it in landscape and portrait orientation, and both had the boring “Why am I looking at a wide-angle shot of a seawall?” thing going on. I tried zooming in, but then I lost the contrast of the lengths of seawall that were not lit by the sun.

Then I saw the bird.

I’m not sure what kind of bird it was. I doubt it was my friend the eagle, but it was slowly, gracefully, flying just a foot or two above the surface of the water, from left to right, across my field of vision.

Another pleasant development is that I’m getting fast with my camera to the point that I am more able to react to these things. Turns out that bird, who occupies only a tiny place in it down in the corner, makes the photo.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. So, too, is getting good enough to recognize the serendipity when it comes and the skill to put it to good use.

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One Response to Serendipity, part two

  1. Roger says:

    Sara is really hot!

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