Sometimes what you need to photograph is not what you are intending to photograph. An instructor told me “always look behind you” as a way to keep your perspective open to opportunities. Our western, goal-oriented, process mentality values the concept of charging straight ahead into an issue or opportunity, yet true innovation continues to reveal itself when someone stops to view the broader world around them. Much of eastern philosophy, more open to the broader scenes in the world around us than we narrowly focused Occidentals, has this element of viewing a wider world. One particular aspect is the idea of “soft eyes,” a key element of aikido, a non-aggressive martial art. Aikido masters sometimes appear to have eyes in the back of their head, fending off attackers they don’t even appear to look at yet know are there.
It’s one of the seeming paradoxes of photography training. Many instructors emphasize the very positive benefits of having personal projects (as opposed to commercial or editorial ones) as a way to rally your thoughts around why you are making an image or searching for a composition. Personal discipline is certainly a good behavior to get you out and looking, if only to get you away from the computer! Still, I wonder how many other image opportunities get passed on the way to the “shot” that you can check off your personal project list?
Street photographers seem to get this idea the best. They are explorers of the human landscape, watching for a nexus of story, person and action, always open to the possibilities. One street photographer I know talked about watching a crowd with a sense of what could happen and then having their camera ready when the anticipated action took place. It’s like any game where the ball is moving and it’s your job to be where it will end up. Didn’t Gretsky attribute his hockey greatness to going where the puck will be in the future?
I’d love to tell you the above image came from being wide open to the possibilities around me but in reality it was a gracious accident. I was composing a scene to the east, looked back toward the setting sun to see how much time I had left or whether anything would be blocking the light, and there was this tree superimposed on the horizontal lines of clouds that were passing by. A few minutes earlier or later and the scene would not have been there so this was one of those gifts you accept and tell others about, and hope they share the sense of wonder with you.