Essay, article:
How chance can be an important element in a photograph
By Rick Doble

See my full list of essays about contemporary and digital art.

For some odd reason, we tend to think of today's world as logical. Certainly computers are logical and also our lives are more secure than they would have been a mere 100 years ago before antibiotics, for example. Life expectancy has increased about 50% since 1900 -- plus a host of other modern advances have made life more predictable.

Yet chance is always a player. How you your met your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend is often by chance -- and this may affect your entire life. Many times the career choice you made was affected by chance such as availability of a particular school in your area or a teacher you liked, etc. And often jobs are found by chance, frequently requiring a move to a very different part of the country -- a place you never would have gone otherwise -- which again can impact your entire life.

In photography chance can play a major role. While studio photography is predictable, candid photographer is anything but. Some of the greatest photographs, such as those by Cartier-Bresson, were taken by chance. Yet Cartier-Bresson also had a skill, that of being in the right place at the right time, to get photographs that he captured by chance.

Does that sound like a contradiction. It probably does.

Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” So chance also works with science that we often think of as being primarily logical. Cartier-Bresson, the photographer, knew how to place himself in situations where a chance photograph was more likely to happen. In addition he had a hair-trigger ability to position his camera and take the shot within seconds of seeing a candid situation. In addition, I suspect, he knew how to anticipate events, such as a person walking down the street, so that he could frame their movements at just the right moment.

Good poker players say that poker is a game of skill and not chance. Now, of course, sometimes, the poker player Gods do the unlikely thing and do actually fill an inside straight. But over time the experienced player will win based on his understanding of the likelihood of a card being dealt.

Candid photography requires much of that same skill. You might take dozens of photos to get the one you really like, but that one will have a vibrancy and life to it, that a shot in the studio rarely has. Great candid photographers embrace chance and learn to work with it.

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