Photography Addiction – Chasing the High of a ‘Magic Moment”
I snapped a picture. I looked down at my viewfinder. I snapped another picture, I looked back down at the viewfinder again. It was all wrong. It was all horrible. The lighting, the composition, the focus. Everything was wrong.
The photos were turning out terrible and I was getting worried if I would even catch a single good shot of the couple that I was taking pictures of that afternoon.
My fingers instinctively began adjusting the Shutter speed, the ISO and Aperture with each picture. I was progressively trying to make something happen with the scene that was happening before me. How could I make the photo cool, how could I capture something special? How could I capture something magical?
I bent down and shot. I laid on the ground and shot. I shot from above, from below. I was getting nervous. Actually, I am not sure nervous is the right word, maybe a stronger word like panic is more appropriate. In spite of my best efforts, I wasn’t even catching good pictures, let alone something I could be proud of.
I was chasing a magic moment and I needed a fix. I needed that fix Now.
Another potentially Magic Moment otherwise ruined by sloppy camera work.
And this is pretty much how it is every time I take out the camera. Well, at least for a little while each time. I start off stressed out, bumbling around until I finally capture something I like. Sometimes, something clicks beyond the shutter. Those times are too few and too far in-between. Something magical just happens – and I guess like any photographer that is my addiction. That addiction to find that moment pulls me back. It pulls me back to my camera everyday even though odds are high it won’t happen.
The Magic Moment
In photography there is a term for a photograph that inspires a reaction, an emotion, a feeling. They call it the Magic Moment. It happens when everything comes together at once to create a picture that captures a moment in time evocatively. The light, the composition, the focus, the activity, and a thousand other things magically happen all at once to create a photograph that one can be proud of.
I sat outside a house for 2 days taking pictures of people passing by on this street. I must have taken hundreds of pictures. I hated all of them, until I felt I caught a magic moment with these girls riding by on a bike, laughing as the monsoon rains pelted them.
The Magic Moment is completely subjective and maybe thats what makes it even more elusive. I may think I have captured a magic moment while someone else may think the photograph is lousy. I guess the real magic happens when a photograph is generally considered magical by many. My dream in life is capture at least one of those. One photo that I think is magical, and others do to.
When is someone a “Photographer”?
I read many articles that present a view on what makes someone a photographer. Most of the views have to do with either the experience level of the person, their commitment to photography, or in many cases whether they make money doing it.
I guess I have my own view. I think someone, anyone is a photographer when they are addicted to capturing that magic moment. When photography becomes your drug of choice – you are a photographer.
When you look around and constantly frame each scene around you into photographs in your head – you are a photographer. When you rack your brain at all hours of the night for things to take photos of – you are a photographer. When you wake up at 4am in the morning to take sunrise pictures of a beautiful place – you are a photographer. When you wish you had your camera with you and you curse yourself for not – you are a photographer. I don’t care if you have an iPhone or a Hassalbad H4D-200MS, you are a photographer when you are addicted to the magic of photos. Anyone can be a photographer if they love it in their heart.
You cannot force the Magic Moment
I guess photographers have picked a lousy drug. Most other addictions can be bought or acquired with a little work. A photographer cannot go out and buy a magic moment. No, a photographer must toil away, brushing off frustration and self doubt constantly to get their fix. The magic moment cannot be forced.
Putting the Odds in Your Favor – 5 Ways to get Closer to Magic
I realize that a magic moment can’t be forced. But I’ve discovered that over time if I do certain things, if I follow certain rules than I increase my odds of capturing a magic moment. These are some of those rules that I follow.
1) Bring your camera everywhere – My friends sometimes ask, “Frank, Why do you bring that camera everywhere”. I guess it’s one of those questions that if you have to ask, you probably wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. I bring my camera everywhere because I never know when something is going to happen. I can’t force the magic but I can improve my odds by bringing my stupid heavy camera everywhere I go. It’s kind of a pain in the butt actually.
I’m glad I had my camera when I saw this scene unfold during a trip to New York. A seemingly empty street , than BAM a makeshift parade with shopping carts happened.
2) Focus yourself, then focus your camera. – I was going out to shoot with a friend and he gave me some interesting advice on how to take pictures. It was interesting because it actually had nothing to do with my camera, or with the lighting or with the lens. He said, “Frank, you need to focus yourself before you focus the camera”. Basically he told me something extraordinarily simple – I had to focus in on what I wanted to get from a picture. I needed to go to the right place, at the right time of day with the right equipment and the right attitude. If I was missing any of those things my chances of success were greatly reduced.
If you don’t focus yourself first, your pictures will probably disappoint you.
3) Spend money to get the best equipment. I know it’s not a popular belief but good camera equipment does in fact improve your pictures – sometimes dramatically so. If you are using a full frame sensor and prime lenses the chances of catching a magical moment in the way that you want improve greatly. To me every penny I spend on excellent equipment is well worth it. If I spend 8 hours a week taking pictures thats a huge investment of my time. I feel like if I want to maximize my time I am going to go out with the best equipment I can afford.
I know I said that you can’t buy or force the magic moment but having the best equipment can sure help you capture it beautifully when it does happen. If you’re thinking about buying a camera and your serious about photography buy the best you can. No one ever regrets having a camera thats too good, they only regret having a camera that doesn’t do what they want.
I suppose I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a D4 and this 14.24mm Wide Angle lens but it takes ridiculously awesome landscape shots and when it does, it makes me ridiculously happy.
4) Keep Persevering. Keep Shooting – I heard a great quote once – Perseverance is Omnipotent. The world is filled with unrewarded genius and talent. I believe one thing is always rewarded in this world and that is perseverance. It’s highly democratic. Anyone can take an amazing photo if they just keep trying and trying and trying until they do. I hate 99% of the photos I take. So I figure that my curse in life is to take 99 shots to make me happy once.
Sometimes I get so low when I start comparing my photographs to others I see on 500PX, or SmugMug or any of the other photography sites. The frustration can be enough to make me quit sometimes. But I don’t think I will. I will just keep shooting, and hoping.
I find myself going to the same cove every few days to capture the shot I want. I get home. I’m disappointed. Finally one day, I captured something I loved – a true magic moment. I am glad I kept trying. Now I have this photograph forever.
5) Trust the Voice in your Head – I was in Banff National Park Canada (one of the most beautiful places in the world) and I noticed something extremely odd. Photographers were stopping their cars in these big groups and taking pictures in the same locations. It was as if they were all taking cues on where the best spots to photograph were based on where other photographers were. I got out of my car a couple of times to look at a couple of locations where these groups were forming. I didn’t see anything spectacular about the location and I started to question myself.
The fact is that many people don’t trust their own inner voice on what looks good and what makes a great photograph . They rely on taking cues from others and in the end, they end up taking pictures that look like everyone else’s picture. That is the furthest thing from a magic moment that you can get. To capture a magic moment, I always to try to start with something different and unique to me and the way I see. Only then can I capture something magical.
Chasing the Magic
I’m no magician, and to be honest sometimes I feel like my camera is a broken wand. But I’ll keep trying to pull rabbits out of my hat and waving that broken wand until I find something magical. Even if its just for me and even its something small. That’s photography. Thats why I love it.