Serendipity. Finding valuable or agreeable things you weren’t looking for. Using your good photography habits, you can take advantage of serendipitous moments and capture amazing photos.
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Bear Hunting, Photographer Style
“You’ll love the drive to Alaska,” my friend assured me. “You’ll probably see some bears, too.”
“I’d love to see a bear,” I said. “All of my bear experiences have taken place in Yellowstone or the Tetons. I have yet to get a really good photo of one.”
“When we moved my parents down,” she said, “we hoped to see bears every day. Finally, the kids told us we should pray about it. The next day, we pulled down a gravel road for a picnic and saw two bears!”
“So cool,” I enthused. In reality, I had no concept of what seeing bears along the Alaska Highway would look like. I just knew we’d drive for days on end and cover thousands of miles through vast wilderness.
My usual bear-hunting territory covered just under 4000 square miles, and I typically only saw a bear in either Yellowstone or the Tetons every other trip. What were the chances I’d see a bear along the roughly 2000 miles we’d travel though remote areas from Calgary, AB to Chistochina, AK? I didn’t get my hopes up.
My telephoto lens didn’t seem adequate, though. Real wildlife photographers had giant lenses with a 600mm reach or more. My lens boasted a paltry 100mm-400mm. In Yellowstone and the Tetons, I’d never gotten any really good, up-close photos of bears.
Despite wanting to spend money on a bigger, better lens, I didn’t. Mostly because I couldn’t afford one and didn’t want to go into debt. As Pedro and I headed off on our Alaskan adventure, I said a secret prayer. I just wanted God to know how much I longed to see and photograph a bear. And get good photos. In retrospect, it seems a little selfish and silly. But God understood my heart.
Moments of Serendipity
Capturing a closeup photo of a mountain goat came in second to my dream of getting a great bear shot. Our first day out of Calgary, we drove through Banff and Jasper National Parks. As we rounded a bend, I saw a line of cars pulled over on the side of the road.
“Slow down,” I cautioned Pedro, “it could be a bear.”
Instead, I looked out my window in amazement and saw a small flock of fluffy mountain goats calmly eating grass right next to the road. I dove for my camera, rolled down the window, and started snapping away.
Pulling over with a trailer behind us didn’t seem like a great idea, but traffic moved slowly enough so I could get all kinds of closeup shots of the goats. Serendipity, indeed. I didn’t need a high-powered expensive lens to capture great shots, either.
The next day, we started seeing bears along the highway. Bears sitting in fields of flowers next to the road. And bears ambling along the tree line next to the highway. Canada has this amazing thing called a verge next to its highways. Swaths of land cleared of trees on each side of the road. Flowers and wild strawberries grow in profusion, and the abundance attracts bears.
We saw 15 bears on that first trip, and I’ve seen close to a hundred in my yearly treks by auto either to or from Alaska. Although I didn’t have an opportunity to photograph every single bear, I’ve had moments of pure serendipity. Cars make great bear blinds, and traffic poses no problem in the wilderness.
God’s Sense of Humor
I can imagine God laughing each time he sees me see another bear as I drive. “I bet she wasn’t expecting that one!” he chortles. And each time, I pull over beside the road and watch the bear (or moose, or mountain goat, or bighorn sheep). I don’t take moments of serendipity for granted, and I treasure each one.
In fact, I’ve learned to not have an agenda when I go galivanting. I always have an idea in mind of what I’d like to see, but I hold my expectations loosely. If I allow myself to just live in the moment and enjoy the beauty before me, those grace-notes of serendipity enchant me even more.
Having my equipment ready to function at optimum performance means I can actually capture the moments.
If you haven’t done yesterday’s homework on habits, go back and read the post and choose a habit you want to form.
Schedule time this week to go galivanting (out looking for beauty). Practice the discipline of staying in the present. Let objects catch your eye and record the beauty. Your moment of serendipity might take you by surprise or take your breath away.
Come Back Tomorrow
In tomorrow’s installment of 28 Days Behind the Lens, I’ll talk about photography as a profession. Even if you don’t have a goal to go pro, some of my tips will help you organize your photos.