How Open to Serendipity and Magic Are You (Really)?



Alan Shapiro
Don't let your preconceived notions of what you want to shoot get in the way of seeing the unexpected, surprising, or downright magical.

Here’s a scenario I am struck by (again and again):

I am meeting a passionate group of macro photographers at the entrance to a beautiful garden somewhere in the world. A subset is carrying backpacks; camera(s) tucked safely away somewhere inside. A different subset has roller bags (oooh…lots and lots of gear in there). About half have their cameras already mounted to their tripod over their shoulder, usually with a backpack or roller.

After the hearty hellos, hugs, the “nice to finally meet you in real life”, I ask everybody if they’re ready?

(This is a trick question)

We start walking to wherever I have decided we will begin our garden adventure for the day. (Usually as far away from the garden entrance as possible.) I typically walk sideways or kinda backward making small talk about all the exciting things we’ll be doing.

After about 50 yards, I ask the group “Are you ready?” again. This is usually met with a chorus of enthusiastic yes-es.

We walk another 25 yards and I say to the group “Are you sure you’re ready? Because I don’t think you are.”

(Insert quizzical looks from the group)

 Photo ©Alan Shapiro

It is then that I point out all sorts of things that we passed in just the 75 yards that I thought were photo-worthy and ask the group why they didn’t have their cameras out? Why didn’t anyone veer off for a few seconds and take a shot or two?

Now, I must admit: this isn’t totally fair as folks are likely being respectful to the group, but it begs the question: How open to really seeing things are you?

And when you do see something along the way, how spontaneous are you? How willing to stop are you (if only for a few seconds) to capture something that caught your eye?

Let’s take this a step further (literally).

 Photo ©Alan Shapiro

We arrive at our first shooting location.

“Okay, everyone…go find your first subject” (This is also a trick)

Invariably, those that have their cameras on their tripods begin to set them up.

Those with bags or rollers grab their cameras and then many of that subset immediately reach for their tripods as well.

“Wait!!!”

Before you get set up for your magnum opus, how much have you explored? If you immediately are jumping into a place where you are perfecting, how open to new points of view are you?

This is where I ask everybody to grab their camera in their hands and to:

  • Go take an image you have never taken before.
  • Find an image where the background is more interesting than the foreground.
  • Go spend the first three minutes laying down and shooting up.
  • Spend the first two minutes taking 50 – 100 different shots of a single flower. Then do another round where you remember to change f/ stop or grab a different lens. Then…after all that forced exploration where hopefully you saw something new…go on and make your masterpiece.

 Photo ©Alan Shapiro

There are lots of prompts to get away from the expected or the preconceptions we all carry with us into a garden. Too many of us have images in mind before we even get to our destination to start shooting, which sometimes (more often than not) gets in the way of seeing things unexpected, surprising, or delightfully magical.

If you’ve made it this far and can honestly say “Nope. Not me” then great. You are exceptional. But if any of this rings true, try some of the prompts above, and then let me know how it goes for you. I can guarantee you’ll come home with a new type of image and likely more than a few to add to your portfolio.

 Photo ©Alan Shapiro

Alan Shapiro

Alan Shapiro is one of Out of Chicago’s diverse team of world-class photographers. To learn more about Alan and our photography conferences he’s teaching at, click here.

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