Why Nature Photographers Need Luck to Create Good Photographs

In a previous blog post, we talked about our "10-10-10-30-40 rule". This rule gives the list of elements that go into a good nature photograph and the percentage of each which is needed. We define a good nature photograph as a good mixture of all these elements. A photographer must know how to prepare this mixture.

In this article, we go back to talk more specifically about one of these elements: we call it luck. It is unquantifiable, indefinable, and unpredictable, yet it is this luck that enables photographers to create images that are memorable and timeless and convey strong emotions.

For this photograph of a storm arriving on us in Arizona, we were in a hide. We had a second camera equipped with a wide angle. We were able to take that photo.
For this photograph of a storm arriving on us in Arizona, we were in a hide. We had a second camera equipped with a wide angle. We were able to take that photo.

The definition of luck in nature photography

In the Oxford Dictionary of English, luck is defined as "something regarded as bringing about or portending good or bad things".

This broad definition must be narrowed when dealing with nature photography. We define luck as the opportunity to create a good original photo of an exceptional, rarely occurring moment. In wildlife photography, it could be a behavior or an expression. In landscape photography, it could have to do with the lights and colors or with the state of the landscape. In underwater photography, it may be the opportunity to photograph a rare species or an extraordinary behavior.

Luck in nature photography is an opportunity to preserve in a photograph a unique and special instant that few, if any, photographers will be able to reproduce.

Luck is unpredictable

Some superstitious photographers call luck "Destiny". They think that whatever will happen, will happen: that everything is predetermined and they just have to wait for luck to show up when it must show up. This is a legitimate perspective. We must accept it, because it is impossible to disprove. It is one way of viewing and living life.

We believe that luck must be sought out. The photographer must come to her. Luck will come only if a photographer shows tenacity and selflessness. A photographer will not meet luck if he just sits quietly in front of his computer. This is our position. Is it better or more credible than the previous one? No. We cannot prove it either.

But, whichever opinion you hold, one thing is certain: luck is totally unpredictable. We have led hundreds of photography trips and we have been on hundreds of photo shoots where nothing special happened. And yet, we have also experienced wonderful, indefinable moments when an extraordinary scene appeared in front of our cameras and we managed to capture it. These magical, memorable moments are the greatest rewards for our patience.

We like to remind people of the truism that is known so well by anyone who plays games: "100% of winners have tried their luck." We always keep this maxim in mind in order to preserve extraordinary moments in our photographs.

Luck is not enough to create a good nature photo

Luck enables a nature photographer to capture a magical and extraordinary moment. It gives him the opportunity to capture an event that occurs rarely or that is happening in a unique way. Luck is necessary to create good photographs, but it is not sufficient by itself.

A good artistic photographer should keep in mind that his photographs ought to reflect the emotions he feels when he takes the photo. His goal is to send a clear message or to testify to the state of his emotions when he took the photo. If the lucky moment arrived, but he did not choose his perspective well, or did not frame the photo well, or did not arrange the elements in his composition, the photo will be a failure. The photographer will have lost an opportunity to use luck.

Knowing how to get lucky

We have often met nature photographers who did not know how to get lucky. They do not know how to watch for lucky evens that are about to happen.

We are always ready for the unexpected. We are never without a camera and tripod. When we make long journeys by car, we are always willing to stop to take a picture. We recommend always carrying a camera mounted with a wide angle lens.

We always check to make sure that the camera’s battery is charged and that there is a memory card in it. As usual, we speak from experience. One day, while we were driving down a road in Utah in the United States, we saw an osprey perched in a tree devouring its prey. Immediately, we stopped the car and took out our camera and our tripod. We moved to the tree where the bird had landed. It was about two hundred meters from the road. We took a few pictures, then checked the camera’s rear screen to see if the exposure was correct, but no image was displayed. We had forgotten to insert a memory card. Ever since, we always check to make sure that the equipment we are carrying is in working order.

Always give luck an opportunity to show up

Luck needs an opportunity to show up. It must be sought out. Luck will not come to a nature photographer if he is always sitting behind a computer or formulating plans about unusual pictures that he is unlikely to take. The photographer must go out into the field to search for luck and give it an opportunity to show up.

Luck smiles on those who are daring and who show patience and abnegation. Contrary to what some photographers think, luck always shows up eventually.

Even we doubt sometimes. Sometimes several weeks pass before we manage to take a great picture. Sometimes we are able to take 5 or 6 beautiful images in the space of a few days. We do not understand the logic behind these events at all, but we think that being positive and optimistic helps us a lot in our quest. We have often found that when we are happy and cheerful, we are able to trigger situations that would not have happened if we had been gloomy. This is why we say that a photographer’s state of mind is very important. If you want to meet the unpredictable Lady Luck, it is better to see the glass as half full.

A good nature photographer must be lucky

If you are skeptical about this theory, try a simple test. Choose your thirty best nature photos. They must be photos that other people have told you were really interesting. Do not take only pictures that you like because the results will be skewed. For each of them, analyze the picture and decide objectively if it is interesting only because of your technical skills or whether there was luck involved. We are certain that you will realize that you have been lucky.

Don’t misunderstand us. We are not challenging your abilities as a nature photographer. You knew how to use your experience to trigger an unusual event and capture that special, unexpected moment. We believe that it is in these surprising moments that we see the quality of a good nature photographer.

Also in Arizona, we waited 3 hours to have this cloudy sky. We checked the weather before we left. Luck smiled at us.
Also in Arizona, we waited 3 hours to have this cloudy sky. We checked the weather before we left. Luck smiled at us.

Finally

As important as it is, luck is not the only element needed to create a good nature photograph. It is part of a recipe, and all the parts must be perfectly proportioned and used properly. But one thing is certain: an unlucky photographer will never create good nature photos. Still, he should not stop his quest. He must keep seeking after luck.

Persistence is the best way to get lucky in nature photography.

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