What an overworked phrase! Catchy, but overworked. Professional photographers have known for decades the kinds of photos they capture when the serendipity springs up before their eyes. They capture the moment because they press the shutter at just the right mille-second. Sometimes such moments can be planned, and sometimes they cannot. Sometimes they are just there, and you have to snap it without thought for composition or lighting or any of the other elements we know are important for quality photography.
For example, you can plan for a photo full of the energy of the win when a person or a vehicle crosses the finish line. Or when you know something spectacular is about to happen, like the birth of a baby, having a camera ready for that first moment of life can result in a breathtaking picture. Such life moments can be captured if you are ready with your skill and talent and equipment. Your education, training and experience are as important as the serendipity in such instances.
Equally so, there is something to be said for the magic of the moment, captured forever on film or a CF card…. that moment when just the right elements come together for stunning composition, nothing that you could have planned or set up. Recently my husband and I escaped the heat of the desert and spent a weekend in the mountains where, one evening at dinner, we were seated on the veranda of the dining room. Just as our salads were served, the sun moved from behind clouds and the brilliant metal roofs of mountain homes were illuminated across the meadow. Bright red and green and blue and gray roof colors flooded our senses as if a bucket-full of marbles had been tossed against the green and brown mountainside. The sight was so full of energy and vitality that we could hardly speak with the vibrancy of it all.
That moment wasn’t planned. It just happened. Sometimes such experiences can be envisioned… in advance of the actual occurrence. For example, you know a harvest moon will be a spectacular sight, and you can prepare for shooting it by being in the right place at the right time. Determine ahead of time what angle you want and what location will provide the best access. The unpredictable can be made easier to manage with a little forethought. You can envision what might be, before it actually happens.
Exercising patience may open doors for a variety of unusually composed pictures, especially if you need to wait on just the right natural light, or shadow, or form or energy. Anticipating the conditions and then patiently waiting for them to occur, with your camera ready, keeps you on the cutting edge of your profession.