Taking Chances

Do chances come your way? When was the last time you had a chance to take an unusual image and you missed it? Do you recognize chance, photographically speaking?

Most of us like to exist in our comfort zones in many walks of life – we are risk averse. Risk is dangerous – things can go wrong when we take a risk. Chance is a bit like a risk, but much less risky – it’s more benign. Chance is offered as an option.

IMG_6876_1When I’m out with a camera in a familiar place I usually have a clear idea of what to shoot. I know the photographic strengths of that place. I may have a specific image in mind: one I’ve taken before but want to re-shoot. We will all have approached a day out with that mindset. The problem with that attitude is that before we even arrive at our destination we have a closed mind: we are wearing blinkers, our vision is narrowed. And what happens if you don’t see what you are looking for? Do you come away rather despondent with an empty card? Or, can you re-think?

IMG_6879_wpChance presents itself to all of us in two guises: firstly as the blink-and-you-miss-it sudden event; and secondly as a result of taking the time and opportunity to see a place anew, in a way that is outside our normal modus operandi. To make the best of chance we have to recognise it first. Sometimes that is best described as riding one’s luck. We need to be open to it, and that requires us to be alert and relaxed at the same time. That sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t.

Chance came my way earlier this week. My wife and I were out in our local city centre. We shopped together for a few minutes and then she said: ‘I want time on my own, off you go with your camera, you’ve got forty-five minutes’. I was like a dog let off the lead! The shopping arcades and their surroundings are a favourite haunt of mine – full of geometry, modern architecture and interesting shop windows with reflections. But on this occasion after wasting quite a few minutes I couldn’t find a single image that attracted me: the place seemed imaged-out, there was nothing new to shoot, and the light wasn’t right. I went and bought a CD instead.

IMG_6903_wpThat break seemed to clear my head of a mild sense of irritation. I checked my watch – thirty minutes left. What to do instead? I paused to look around me, open to suggestions, and I noticed the people rather than the place. And I just started to experiment. I saw possibilities – opportunities – and I grabbed them. My mind had freed up, I felt un-pressured, my eyes were receptive to new images, and I noticed chances. It was a mix of alertness and a process of relaxing into my environment. I moved around, stood still, and waited for something to happen.


All four images scattered through this post were taken on this walkabout. None of them will win an award. The last one nearly went straight into the trash – shot from the hip along with a few others, over-exposed, and out of focus. But when I looked at it a second time I saw something vaguely impressionistic and I felt it worth processing. The other three are examples where I stopped and waited and took a chance.

In the case of the first image, I shot the graphic and just a few seconds later I saw the lady in red approaching. The shot was instinctive. To make the most of a chance we have to be ready and prepared. Camera in hand, switched on, ready to shoot. And if we walk around like that, camera in hand, observing our environment with an open mind, then chances will always come our way. We just have to see them and take them.

9 thoughts on “Taking Chances

  1. The third photo? The person rushing along over the tiled floor? There’s an expression in this country about “running my legs off” while doing errands and such. This is the first time I’ve seen someone actually capture it!

    If you haven’t read Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, find it and read the chapters titled “Seeing,” “Stalking,” and “The Present.” Each is relevant to the points you make here — especially what you say about being relaxed and alert. The book is so fine I read it every year, and consult it regularly.

    As for never knowing what will appear, I have my window to thank for teaching me that lesson. I’m on the third floor of my building, facing a good bit of water and sky, along with a few other buildings, plenty of boats and the occasional palm tree. I love watching the sky, and the sea birds who come along. I expect clouds, and herons, and gorgeous colors at sunset. But Sunday morning? I looked out the window shortly after sunrise, and found this crew. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected that — and yet it appeared, while I was sitting at my computer. You can’t get any closer to home than that!

    • Thanks so much, Linda. The shutter was set very slow for that shot – 1/15th of a second. What pleased me was that I had secured a sharp floor and a ‘foot’ that was also sharp. A little bit of luck came in there! I’m sure you’ve mentioned Annie Dillard before and I think I also looked her up on the www. I must do so again and see if her books are available through Amazon over here in the UK. The men were up and out nice and early – that’s a great shot.

  2. All very salient points as ever Andy. The first image is superb and the second I rather like too. The over exposed diagonal has brought the mans head and shoulders into sharp relief and works very well. I like Shoreacres comment about running my legs off. You certainly captured that.

    • Many thanks Adrian. The second particularly appealed to me from the compositional point of view, and of course it’s in B&W – very little colour in the original – the wall was white so there were no great processing tricks involved in that one.

  3. I Completely identify with this! I have had some great images where I have ‘seized the moment’, as it were, but equally been driving somewhere, seen a great image and no camera! The thing is to tune yourself to be receptive to moments, and the best camera is the one you have with you! 🙂

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