Anticipating The Moment

  By Mark Unrau

The main function of our visual system is to organize the visual spectrum into recognizable shapes and patterns. Our vision focuses on things that are important and quickly suppresses things deemed unimportant. This enables us to navigate through our world quickly and with minimized confusion.

One of the skills as a photographer relies on a sensitivity to this process. We need to understand that the camera does not suppress any visual information. As the late Photographer Galen Rowell says, “The human visual system is in many ways like a video game. It simplifies what it sees so the scene will make more sense. “Survival over accuracy” is the way he sums up the way our vision evolved over the centuries. Understanding how our visual system works on this rudimentary level helps prepare the photographer for framing a better composition to capture the moment before the lens.

What our visual system does not take into consideration is the anticipation of a future moment that may be more desirable for a photograph. 

Once we have a strong foundation in understanding visual perception, we need to delve into the more ambiguous nature of anticipating the moment.

As landscape photographers, we often prepare ourselves by knowing what time sunset is or the date of a significant celestial event. But, we often forget that once on location and poised to take a photo, everything that happens afterwards is not completely random or by coincidence. After enough experience and familiarity with our subject, we start to anticipate a future moment that may unfold instead of just waiting to be lucky. Albeit there are many moments in my own career as a photographer that I felt I was lucky in the moment but technically prepared. But often, getting the shot came from being ready and consciously anticipating what was about to transpire. For example when photographing musicians performing on stage, I have come to realize that often the lead singer will hang on a note in the chorus and seem frozen in time being perfectly still just long enough for me to take a tack sharp image of them at the height of emotion with a slow shutter speed.

In this image of the ladybug, I started to set up my gear to get a shot but she crawled down the flower and started to walk away and onto another flower before I was ready. I continued setting up anticipating that maybe she will come back to the same spot again. Sure enough after a couple of minutes, giving me enough time to be ready with my exposure and focus, the ladybug returned to the same place she was before and stared straight into the lens of my camera which is what you see here.

My anticipation of her coming back was not based on any sort of science or being an expert in ladybug behavior, but by being patient and learning how to anticipate a possible outcome. Since this skill is very hard to substantiate; trust that your instinct will pay off may seem too risky to invest the time required in waiting to see. It is much easier to move on to the next subject or perhaps chase around that ladybug to every flower she climbs on trying to be one step ahead and get the shot before she moves again. In this instance, my intuition guiding me to stay put in hopes she would return to the same place paid off. I encourage you to go out and start anticipating the moment. The more you try the more it works!

About Mark Unrau: 

Mark Unrau is a professional photographer based in Banff who runs workshops through Photography School of the Rockies. For information on his upcoming macro photography workshop at Sunshine Meadows on July 27th and August 3rd follow this link.