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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
When Opportunity Knocks
by Gary W. Stanley

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our photography is that, rarely, do we really know what to expect from it. You happen to be in the right place at the right time, then a friend half-jokingly pipes up and says: "Wow, lucky shot." Of course, in defense of our own photography, we know that as we gain more experience and develop our artistic and mechanical skills, we certainly begin to develop an added awareness of the potential for a great photograph.

Certainly there is no question that luck plays an important part in many of the images that we take. However, I am a firm believer that it is far more important to know what to do with that luck when it confronts you, than in luck itself.

Without being too philosophical here let me just say that for the most part, "When Opportunity Knocks" I do my best to answer the door. It may be one of the major reasons why I love what I do as a photographer, not knowing what's around the next corner or what's behind the next door. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Earlier this month I drove out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the PSA (Photographic Society of America) conference to give a slide-lecture program. It had been quite a few years since I was in Pittsburgh and, although I am a country boy, I was impressed. Some of my friends had arrived earlier in the week, and had gotten the opportunity to do some photography around town.

As is usually the case when I am lecturing, I don't bring my camera gear, so, after I checked in and got settled in my room I headed down to the lobby. When the elevator door opened, there was my friend Jake Mosser. I believe the first words out of his mouth after hello was, "Did you bring your camera?" "Well, no," I said, "I don't mix work with work!" After that smart remark, Jake left me alone until the next afternoon.

When we met again in the lobby on Friday, he walked up to me and with a pleasant but mysterious smile said: "A few of us are going out to shoot the city, do you want to go along? If you can swallow your pride, you can use my wife Susan's old Canon A1." He knows I'm Nikon all the way, but when he mentioned dinner after the shoot, how could I say no? Okay, I have one roll of free Kodak E100VS slide film they gave me at the sign-up desk, a borrowed Canon camera with a 35-80 lens, and no tripod. I'm breaking all of my most sacred rules here.

As we stood on the hillside overlooking the city, the warm late afternoon light was anything but "Opportunity Knocking". I was patient, however, and content to just hang out with a few good friends, and snap a couple of shots of the city to show my wife Pam. As the sun was setting, experience again told me that there wasn't going to be much of a sunset, but hey, dinner was just around the corner.

My friend, Rick Cloran, had suggested an overlook near the restaurant where we could photograph the city after sunset. Okay, that sounds great, but now I know I will need a tripod for sure. Another good photo friend, John Fuller, was using Susan's other Canon A-1 and he and I were swapping her two lenses back and forth. Now Rick's wife, Marilyn, was nice enough to let John and I use her tripod, and Jake had an extra cable release.

Determined not to let these minor obstacles deter me from at least trying to take a couple of decent shots, John and I patiently waited for each other to take our turn with the equipment we were so graciously loaned. As the light of the sun went down and the lights of the city began to turn on, exposure times were now at about a minute and a half.

I was watching opportunity knock, and with one hand tied behind my back, it was becoming very difficult to answer the door. John and I managed not to kill each other in the fight for equipment, and we were both able to attend to the job at hand.

I was pleasantly surprised that every image was well exposed and the night shots were great. I even had enough time to allow my creative side to take its turn at answering the door "When Opportunity Knocked." 

Wow! Lucky shot! Sure there was some luck involved, but the things that I mentioned at the outset still came into play here. I knew when opportunity was knocking and how to answer it. Five years of retail sales experience gave me some familiarity with the Canon camera. I knew what to do with the lens, the tripod, and the cable release, and oh yes, as for the exposure, aperture priority, plus two stops of compensation. How was I able to make that quick mind-boggling exposure decision? Jake said "Try that, it always works for Susan!"

Hopefully most of us have our own familiar equipment with us most of the time so that we can concentrate on the more important things at hand. If you have polished the basic skills needed to capture an image when opportunity does knock, your odds for success are most certainly going to improve.

Keep in mind that within the pages of Vivid Light are many helpful articles archived for you, so that you can go back and review some basic points. It could be Moose Peterson's articles on digital photography or Len Rue's vast experience photographing wildlife. It could be Jim McGee's news about a new products or his thoughtful commentaries. It may be Chuck McKern's answers to a reader's equipment problems, or my own articles on photography basics. No matter how you slice it; we all educate ourselves in one-way or another to become better photographers. Why not tell a friend about the value of becoming a Vivid Light reader so they too will know what to do "When Opportunity Knocks."


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