It’s happened any number of times. Walking in the woods or down the road; driving, maybe on a road trip or maybe to or from the cities; at the beach; at a local festival. The perfect shot catches your eye – composition, lighting, circumstance, the expressions on any of the people involved – perfect. A sparkling jewel of a moment in time that can be captured and displayed forever.
But maybe you don’t have your camera with you. Or you think I can’t just pull over to the side of the road, people will think I’m crazy! Or you might have the camera, set and ready for those exact conditions, and be lifting it to your eye… and hesitate, letting the moment pass, because if you take a picture of people you don’t know, they might get upset, or they might sue you, and what good would it do anyway when you’d have to get a model release in order to use the image commercially and that’s only if it turned out which it probably wouldn’t…
Stop. Just stop. Silence the inside of your head, the conventions and customs and habits we’ve all been littered with and take the image. Press the shutter button, congratulate yourself on such a beautiful capture, and then deal with externals.
If you’ve been a shutterbug for any length of time, you know that same spirit-crushing truth that I do; once you make the choice to pass up a shot, it’s gone forever. The specific set of circumstances that occurred to make that unique image catch at your eye and heart will never occur again. You might get similar, if you’re lucky. But that one moment will never be the same a second time. So grab it while you can.
Don’t have your camera with you? SHAME ON YOU. Always bring your camera and take the image. The one time you decide not to snag your beloved memory-holder as you dive out the door will be the time you see an eagle… or a dramatic light and shadow display in the clouds… or a rainbow… or a brilliant sunset… or a sky of fiery, molten gold after a thunderstorm… or that iconic farmland harvest image of a combine moving steadily across a field against a background of brightly-colored trees under a sky darkening inexorably toward twilight. (No, none of those are from personal experience at all.)
Driving down the road? BE SENSIBLE, first and foremost. Recognize even in your pursuit of the perfect image there are some shots that absolutely cannot be taken because of safety concerns – rush hour in the middle of the city springs to mind. If there’s no danger to life or limb (yours or someone else’s), then by all means signal and SAFELY move to the shoulder to stop and take the image. Back up, if you have to, in order to find that ideal spot again. And always be mindful of other traffic… but don’t let it stop you from safely and sensibly grabbing hold of that beautiful moment. Chances are other drivers have noticed the exact same thing you did and will be wishing they were as bold as you.
Got a smiling, happy family in your viewfinder? Take the image. And then approach them. Introduce yourself, show them the shot, share what quality it was that called to your artist’s heart. Ask them if they’d like a copy. Exchange contact information. If you want to break into stock photography, or publish the photo some other way, ask their permission. And if they are adamant they want the image destroyed, well… it’s a bit of a grey area at that point. You can delete the photo, right then and there. If you’re absolutely in love with the capture and want it for your portfolio you can agree not to publish it and just keep it privately. It’s rare that people are that fierce about it, though. Most often, they’ll be flattered and eager for a copy of their own.
Be respectful. Be SAFE. But within those confines always take the shot. If it doesn’t turn out, then you learn a little something for the next opportunity. If it does… let yourself feel that warmth of accomplishment and boost of confidence, every time you see it.