What is the hardest part about making a great image?

Foto Tip from Mark Alberhasky – Mark looks at the state of mind required to find that next great shot, the photograph that blows you away and makes you ask “did I take that”?
What is the hardest part about making a great image?

Some might say, “Paying for the expensive equipment it takes to make serious pictures.”
But that isn’t true.  Almost any camera on the market today can produce an exceptional image.

Others might say, “Knowing how to work today’s sophisticated cameras.” But that isn’t true.  Even pro models come with a variety of auto modes that nearly guarantee well focused and exposed shots.

What do I find the hardest part?
Pushing the shutter button the first time.

That sounds absurd, doesn’t it.  But a lot has to happen before that shutter button gets pressed.

First, you have to make the time and decide, “I’m going to shoot now.” With the exhausting schedules we’re cramming into our lives, it’s not a simple thing to carve out 30 minutes or an hour to go on a nebulous search for the “next great shot (NGS)”.  And then there is synchronizing the time you’ve set aside with conditions that favor a good result.  Guess what?  It works better if you shoot when the light is good (typically early morning or late afternoon / early evening). I’ve made some NGSs by just getting up 45 minutes early, on a weekday before heading to work, spending time in the back yard (more on that

Next comes your frame of mind.  If all you’ve got in your head is, “What am I going to say at that committee meeting after lunch?” don’t waste your time thinking you might make a NGS by just going through the motions.  Photos that inspire come from inspired work. Clear your mind as you pick up your camera.  This is actually one of the really wonderful things about a passion.  It means so much to you that you willingly unburden yourself of all your day to day frustrations or preoccupations, to make the most of the time you have, be it photography, cooking, golf, or watching a baseball game (although how someone can be passionate about watching something as boring as a baseball game is beyond me).

Finally, as you head out in search of a subject, it becomes a mind game.  When you are a novice you shoot anything and everything, hoping that volume will yield a NGS.  After a while you realize that sheer numbers don’t translate into great images, and you begin to hesitate, second guessing yourself, “Is this really worth taking a picture?” Suddenly the fun process of making photos is sounding like work… decisions, decisions.

Here is where it gets interesting.
NGS  photos, at least for me, are virtually never the first picture I take, and often are not even the subject I have in mind when I go out to shoot.  And here is the good part.  Once you’ve cleared all the hurdles we’ve discussed, there is something about getting the first picture out of the way that frees you.  It’s like a reaction in physics that has reached critical mass.  You suddenly are in the moment, making images, and everything else is behind you.  It becomes easy to keep shooting (the dam has broken) and there is a good probability that somewhere down the road, a NGS is lurking, waiting for you to discover it.

It does get easier with time and practice to clear some of the hurdles.  But there are times when even the most talented, seasoned pro will miss his/her NGS because they stumbled getting out of the gate, and an opportunity passed them by when they were unprepared.

My backyard isn’t that big.  My wife and I are not serious gardeners. Every time I step out the back door, even if in the right frame of mind, I’m still skeptical I’ll find something new that might be a NGS. But if it isn’t there this time, I know it might be there the next, just like the “hole in one” all those golfers spend days, weeks, and months trying to find (with all that determination, they might make better photographers!).

So here is a recent NGS.  I’d made a number of shots that morning, but hadn’t felt a NGS was among them.  As I was walking back to the house (toward the sun, which was still low in the sky at 7am), I noticed the grass needed to be cut!  But that was a good thing.  The tall blades had given tiny lawn spiders just the right place to spin webs.  In the grass.  I hadn’t really ever noticed them before.  I spent a few minutes walking the yard until I found one laden with morning dew. The drops were catching the light, turning them into a thousand tiny light bulbs, hung in the dark jungle of uncut grass blades.  It was worth laying full length in the lawn looking a little crazy.    ;  )

I’m going to Spain, France, Canada, and Tibet this summer.  Even with that itinerary I’m still wondering where and when I’ll find my NGS. But as I’m figuring out how these special photos happen, I find my confidence increasing.  It doesn’t necessarily make them easier to find, but at least I know the next one is out there, waiting for me. All you and I have to do is get past that first press of the shutter.

Mark Alberhasky

Mark Alberhasky photo of a spider's web

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