Behind the lens: Good photos require luck as much as skill


Lawrence Journal-World

A cheerleader leaps out of the path of the Lawrence High Lions football players they break through a banner before their game against Shawnee Mission West at LHS Nov. 9. I was so concentrated on the banner and the football team that I didn't see the cheerleader in my frame until editing the images later.

Being a photographer can involve psychology skills.

My ability to observe a subject, predict behavior, remain alert to visual clues and anticipate action helps me to be a successful photojournalist. It involves a mix of skills in intuition and past experiences photographing people in numerous environments and situations.

Some people point to expensive camera equipment and luck as the reason for success in photography, but I think it really has more to do with Kansas University basketball. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a quote from KU basketball great Danny Manning: “Luck comes when preparation meets opportunity.” Manning said these words after KU’s well-executed 83-79 win over the University of Oklahoma in the NCAA championship game in 1988.

The quote is credited to Roman philosopher Seneca from mid-1st century A.D. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” Seneca said. I’m pretty sure Seneca was not a photographer, but that phrase sums up what creates success in photography. Good photography requires knowledge of your equipment, proper exposure control, appropriate lens choice and being in the right spot at the right time. That’s all preparation. The rest is up to you to find the opportunity, maintain an attentiveness to your subject and put your luck to the test.

I had the opportunity to take a photograph of the Lawrence High Lions football team charging through a school banner at the start of a recent game. I made preparations with the correct exposure setting, the appropriate lens choice and I walked to a position on the field for a straight shot at the banner. Knowing that the players would run through the banner, all I had to do was stay focused and framed on it until the players split the sign.

This wasn’t rocket science. Everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen, and when it did, I got the shot I intended. But I got more than I planned. Even though I didn’t observe it at the time, I had also captured one cheerleader, at the side of my frame, leaping out of the path of the charging players. I only noticed it later when I reviewed my photographs. Lucky me.

Consider yourself lucky if you attend photographer Terry Evans’ retrospective at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., on exhibit through Jan 20, 2013.

Evans, born in Kansas City in 1944, attended KU in the late ’60s and majored in painting and commercial art. She later settled in Salina. Her show “Heartland: The Photographs of Terry Evans” takes viewers on a visual tour of diverse subjects and projects, many from Kansas. The show, and a book from the show, spans a career starting in 1971, with explorations of prairie landscapes, both distant.


ssargdons 5 years, 7 months ago

Good article. I always enjoy your photos. Thanks, Mike.

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