"Chance favors the prepared mind," Ansel Adams was fond of saying (though the original quote comes from Louis Pasteur). I was reminded of the wisdom of this aphorism during a recent trip my family and I took to Coral Gables, Florida. Armed, as usual, with my camera-bag's worth of equipment, I had a carefully preconceived plan in place to visit some of my favorite "photo-safari" haunts. I know the area well from my many visits, and places such as Fairchild Gardens and Vizcaya were firmly at the top of my list. While they didn't disappoint (they never do), and each offers delightful compositional opportunities, through no fault of theirs - since I was the one who deliberately chose them for my photo-safari - my muse was unfortunately struggling to stay awake.
There is a feeling, roughly analogous to the common dream of running through molasses, that overcomes all photographers at some point when they've prepared too much. Everything is "right", all the equipment works, the lenses are clean, the camera bag has exactly what you need, the light is right, the location is right, beautiful vistas are all around you, and ... nothing happens. There is no magic. No spark. You lift your (strangely, much heavier-than-normal) camera to your eye, and - maybe - at some point click its shutter more to alleviate the growing boredom than because of anything that strikes your aesthetic eye as "interesting." And yet, everything, objectively speaking, is perfect. How can that possibly be?, you wonder Everything is just right. All photographers - all artists - know exactly what I'm writing about.
Now, skip ahead to the last day of my family's trip. The rain starts to fall in the morning, and is unrelenting; and with it, so I think, wash away my last hopes of savoring an "Aha!" moment at Fairchild or Vizcaya. Finally, the sky clears, it is late in the day, and my kids want to go feed the pelicans at a nearby park (Matheson Hammock Park Beach). Sulking from my trip-long funk, I want to leave my camera behind (something I almost never do). My wife (as she always does;-) reminds me that I almost never do that, and gently urges me to bring it along, which I do, reluctantly (and expect nothing more than to get some quick grabs of the kids feeding their pelicans, if even that). Which is, indeed, exactly what happens. No muse, no sparks, just that same monotonous, lifeless "clicks" as before...and then the magic happens!... just as the kids finish feeding their pelicans and everyone starts walking back toward our car.
While putting away my camera, my trip-long, nearly comatose "photographer's eye/intuition" finally awakens, and forces me to glance over my shoulder...and I am absolutely transfixed by the magnificent cacophony of lines, shadows and light playing on the rapidly darkening, and by now deserted, marina. Literally breathlessly, I reset my tripod, rifle through my bag for a 3-stop ND filter (to get at least a 15 sec exposure to blur the small waves), compose more on instinct than design, and take one shot. At which time my wife and kids are already getting antsy, and remind me that dinner is waiting and that they're all hungry. And the magic goes Poof!
But what a moment. While my one shot - reproduced at the top of this blog entry - may not be an award winner, it is by far my best shot of the whole trip. It is also the one shot I didn't plan on taking at all; though I was prepared!
I hope I'll remember this little lesson in humility, though I recall saying those same words to myself countless times before, and such experiences still obviously take me by surprise when they happen. Although I almost always "plan" on going to certain places (that's my style), and always have at least some idea of what I'm "after" when I get there (in concept, if not detail), I also always try to be prepared for when chance decides to pay me a quick visit. Indeed, as a photographer, I live for these moments!