The Fabric of Place and Time in Street Photography

I recently ended a longtime friendship when I discovered this particular friend had no idea what Cartesian coordinates were. I’m not being petty here.

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He probably does indeed know what Cartesian coordinates are, though not by that name, as I believe every student is taught how to plot points on a simple X/Y axis-graph at some point in high school. The reality is he doesn’t care what Cartesian coordinates are, as many do not care about the vast majority of things they learned about in high school or even in college. Conversely, I do care about Cartesian coordinates :), particularly when it comes to my style of photography. As much as attitude and skill and an understanding of light plays a role in photography, luck has a huge role to play in whether a shot is good or not. By luck I mean being in the right place at the right time.

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Opportunities emerge around us all on a regular basis. In general, the only thing preventing us from seizing some or any of these opportunities is that we are not physically around to take advantage of them. To be fair, there is something to be said for ones level of readiness if he or she is present at an opportunistic event, and thats why, particularly in photography, it is commonly understood that one must be ever-ready to shoot. Being ready wont make a bit of difference if one is absent, however. This isn’t a thing that can always be controlled. In event and action photography the moments happen where and when they happen. There is no environmental or temporal control available to the shooter. This is totally unlike studio photgraphy, where a shooter is working via appointments and gets to play God with every aspect of the photographic process. If you are say…shooting soccer and are on one side of the field, you may miss a key sequence that happens on the other side of the field, despite having a fast and long telephoto lens at your disposal. This is the nature of the profession. You can’t shoot every angle of a dance recital or catch every dancer in mid-air when he or she leaps, and you cant cover every meaningful moment of a wedding ceremony, even with four cameras, ten lenses to choose from, and two shooters. Something will always be missed, though hopefully not key moments you were prepared for.

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That’s why I call it luck. Every now and then even the laziest shooter, who happens to have his or her camera at the ready, will shoot a sequence of events and do so extraordinarily. Ninety-nine percent of the time that shooter may snap uninspiring photos at an event. After nearly falling asleep while waiting, holding his or her camera at an otherwise boring student protest for instance, that shooter may be right there, front and center, when the counter-protesters reveal themselves and somebody gets punched in the face. All he or she has to do at that moment is shoot. It is the fabric of time and space. It is the luck of the draw. There is no reliable way to position yourself to more often than not get that magical shot. You can try to read into body language and use your innate photographic wisdom to make guesses as to what will happen next, but you can easily guess wrongly and be out of position while the next guy, who has been fumbling through his camera menus and chimping all day, might luck up and get the shot of a lifetime.

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Bottom line is: You cant control what you cant control, so say a little serenity prayer and keep it moving. I wish I could divine some way to always be at the right coordinates to get those magical shots that will make me rich. I wont hold my breath until it happens, however. I will continue to hold my camera as steadily as I can, select my position on the X/Y/Z axis of the universe, and shoot what I see. There are many obstacles and distractions which emerge before me but through it all, I stay low and I keep shooting! 

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