Photographers Luck

Its been *far* too long since my last blog, but thats what having a one year old does to you, I suppose. However a shot I took yesterday inspired me to put pen to paper, so to speak. In fact it was actually several shots that culminated in the cogs whirring but the image that sparked it all was this one:

Now it’s not my best shot ever or even my favourite from recent weeks, but it was my choice capture from the Sunday morning shoot in Milton Keynes and one that I was certainly very happy to post on my Flickr stream. More importantly it precipitated the following discussion in my head… and isn’t that what Art is supposed to do?

So the subject of this blog is this: Photographers Luck. Fortuitousness. Serendipity. Call it what you will, but we all need a good dose of it once in a while to bag a keeper whilst out hunting for our next photo.

Why exactly did this photo set off all neurones firing in my brain? Well, being 1/2 hour away from where I live, I’ve photographically explored Milton Keynes many times… and I often find myself framing a shot from one of the numerous underpasses you come across. All of them are very similar to each other but they all have a slightly different personality; be it due to a blown bulb, a bit of graffiti or a missing stone from the wall. There’s always something different to spot when you walk into the next one. Whether or not that underpass delivers a scene worth documenting is another matter altogether. Indeed, it was only two weeks previously that I went on a night-time shoot and took this:

I like this shot, but I don’t *love* it. I thought about posting it, but decided against it as it just didn’t quite grab me by the short and curlys. There's another 'splatter' shot on my Flickr stream that I prefer. No photographers luck that day.

Conversely, when I came across the scene on Sunday, I was instantly seduced by the laser beam of light bisecting the wall. I couldn’t work out what was happening but I instantly knew I’d struck it lucky.  Most of the walkways in MK are made up of two underpasses with an open air gap in-between. These double acts correlate to each direction of dual-carriageway above . When I moved on to it’s twin underpass just slightly east this is what I saw:

Apologies for the dreadful diagram. 

And getting a little over excited about it all...


I think its good, but with the whole lower half of the image bathed in morning sun, I don't find it quite as engaging as scalpel-like shaft found in it’s westerly brother. When taking in this lesser scene the penny dropped. The sun was at the *perfect* angle to allow for that sliver of photons to travel through the gap between each underpass. The light had travelled 150 million km only to be soaked up by the roads above, except for an inch-thick streak bursting through. The fact that it was joining up the thirds of my framing whilst simultaneously creating two triangles in the image… that was some mind-blowing geometry in front of me.


I thought to revisit the underpass where I’d been two weeks earlier… perhaps this could be an even better image?

In a word, no. There are now two subjects vying for your attention: the slash of sunlight and the splat of oomska. Too much. Irrespective of this however, what’s really interesting is that this is taken just 1 minute later than the first shot (I checked the EXIF) and notice that the shaft isn’t so precise. It’s getting thicker from the ever rising sun. One minute making the difference. Serendipity playing her hand again.

One aspect I love about this crazy passion we share is that different times of day/month/year can yield drastically different results. I often like to think of one place as two completely different playgrounds… that of day and night. An area that is full of opportunity by day may afford nothing by night and visa versa. Therefore one way to cook up some of that elusive elixir called luck is to plan to visit the same place at several times of the day and night and on different days of the week. Shots that are possible on a quiet Sunday morning probably wouldn’t be so achievable on a busier Saturday am, for example. 

Lets face it, if I’d wandered through that fateful underpass just 30 mins later, it probably would have been a plain-jane walkway with little to entice me in… Or would it?! How am I to know unless I go back again at different times of the day? One thing is for sure: if I had been there just 10 minutes earlier then there would be no beam of light… but there might have been a weasel riding a woodpecker. Too late, I missed them. This time. 

Above is my favourite shot from these underpasses (and one of my favourites of all time, for that matter). Clearly this could only be taken in Autumn. I was in the right place at the right time. It leads me to ponder how they look shortly after a snow blizzard arrives… but I’ll probably be wondering this for some time as I’d also be stranded in Milton Keynes in that eventuality. 

On Saturday night Mrs F and I sampled a few too many gin cocktails (much nicer than I was expecting), but I still set the alarm for 06.00 having only had 5 and 1/2 hours sleep. I dragged my sorry arse out of bed to go traipsing around MK at 7am on a freezing Sunday morning. In doing so I maximised my chances of getting that keeper. I created my own good fortune. 

So although we sometimes need a little luck to fire the shutter at the right place and the right time, we can surely boost our odds by putting in some good old fashioned *effort* to capturing that decisive moment. To close with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, "Diligence is the mother of good luck."

Stay lucky :)