Feature Story

Photographic Luck

Rainbow Rocks
Water ripples
Lone Bristlecone in color
Looking Out
lines and circles
Sunrise at Mono Lake
Moon over Zion
Tufas at Sunset
Fallen Bristlecone
Clouds and Mountains

I study my monitor and think, "She captured the decisive moment." Soft shadows drape a distant snow covered mountain, with pine trees leading to the peak. Small in perspective like distant penguins on an Arctic glacier, skiers are ready for a downhill thrill. A warm colored sky is the backdrop. The image is beautiful, but a single element adds impact. A perfectly focused bird, with outstretched wings and individual feathers revealed like fingers, flies into the image's left corner. Is this just a lucky shot? This image sparked a round of photo forum comments about the connection of luck and photography. Was the photographer just lucky to be there? Did the bird just happen to enter the frame as the shutter closed?

Luck is not the major factor in capturing a dynamic nature photograph. Sure, a thrilling element such as a rainbow, bird or cloud pattern may be present. They add impact to a photograph. But, consider how these "lucky" elements are captured.

Assume the photographer did not lure the bird or scare it into flight. The bird was flying during its daily routine to find food, shelter or perhaps its mate. It would fly without the photographer; it was not flying by chance.

By actively exploring the landscape, the photographer had an opportunity. She was prepared with her camera, studied the landscape and was flexible and skilled to incorporate a last minute element, the bird, when it graced her image.

I remember a trip where perseverance intersected opportunity. I left my motel in the dark to venture forth on a rainy morning, intending to photograph Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Mountains. The weather was not promoting a sunrise image.

I was reminded of a mentor who ventured out in the very same weather to capture a beautiful sunrise at Torrey Pines State Park. As he left his truck in the rain, he approached his vista to find clearing skies. Sunrise bathed the sandstone cliffs with rich, warm color as he clicked his shutter.

I ventured forth, and on my trip, the Eastern sky also cooperated. The rising sun illuminated the rain in the West. That was the formula for a tremendous rainbow over the Alabama Hills. Weather patterns happen routinely in the Sierras. The rainbow would have occurred if I had not been a witness, but I was in an opportunity to capture a dramatic face of nature. And I was ready with my camera and tripod.

The dedicated nature photographer captures emotions. To do so, the photographer seeks expressive light to unveil the magnificent features in a landscape. These features reveal the character of the land.

Photographers draw on their experience, skills and creativity to interact with chance occurrences in nature. They connect to nature by engaging nature; being there, ready to capture a special moment in time.

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—The JPG team

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