What to do when adversity strikes (or a volcano erupts)
By Derek Doeffinger
May 13, 2010
Like me—like most photographers—you probably prefer information that is specific, concrete, technique-oriented, and visually demonstrable.
Most photographers want to hear tips that go something along the lines of “Position a small reflector under the flower and its petals will seem to glow.” That is the kind of information you can incorporate into your own shooting routines and see specific results immediately.
Well, I am here to tell you that what you are reading now is not that type of article. But stick with me. Because when adversity strikes (and it will), your attitude affects the outcome of your photos (and just about everything else). So I’m asking you tech- and tip-obsessive types to keep reading, too, because while attitude may not be everything, it can not only get you through some sticky situations but actually turn them into photographic opportunities.
Airport delays afford you an opportunity to explore your creativeness. Here a setting sun reflects off the windows of an airliner.
Stuff happens. Plan for it.
Almost any trip, foreign or domestic, can go wrong. And most will. Be it a big wrong or little wrong. A lost ticket could strand you in Timbuktu. A broken plane (or erupting volcano) could boggle your itinerary. Foul weather could wash out the road to the butterfly sanctuary. Your favorite lens could swim with the sharks (or be stolen by one). Dead calm could turn that regatta into a bathtub of bobbing boats.
You can never know ahead of time what will go wrong. But ahead of time, you should expect that something will go wrong. Prepare backup plans to cover some (but not all) “just in cases.” Isn’t that why you’re taking a second camera? Isn’t that why you’ve researched and identified alternate destinations?
Find opportunities in screw-ups
Equally importantly, think about how you’ll react emotionally to adversity, because even thorough planning can’t cover all scenarios. And ahead of time, tell yourself you will commit to exploring what potential opportunities might arise from any screw-ups.
If you are stuck at the airport or bus station, practice your portrait photography or develop your seeing skills. Step onto the people mover and set your camera to a slow shutter speed and see what you come up with. If the weather turns bad, tuck your camera into one of those Ziploc bags you brought along and venture out to capture the glistening patterns on the cobblestone streets or people huddled in doorways.
And if events completely stymie any photography (your gear is stolen?), rant and rave a bit to unleash frustrations, but then take the time to reflect about where you are with your photography. What do you want to do differently? What strengths should you rely on? What weaknesses should you work on? And don’t forget that in just a day or two, you’ll probably be shooting again. So plan the next few days more thoroughly and figure out how you can make up for lost time.
And occasionally, just accept the downtime. Understand that sometimes the best photography starts by first not taking pictures. Sometimes it comes from talking to your traveling companions or working on your language skills or thinking, or even daydreaming. You may gain insights that catapult your photography in a new direction.
Washed out roads and a willful taxi driver who insisted on changing his taxi’s bald tires being changed for almost bald tires led to this portrait of the mechanic’s sister.
Heavy January rains in Mexico washed out the road to the El Rosario butterfly preserve. Our devious taxi driver (he later stole my wife’s purse) didn’t know this. So a two-hour ride to this mountain preserve proved frustrating and fruitless. While speeding south to another preserve, the one I originally requested he head for, he suddenly skidded to a stop, threw his car into reverse and gunned back fifty yards. Did I mention we were on a secluded back road?
What’s going on? Fortunately, nothing extraordinary—at least for rural Mexico. Our self-serving taxista had spotted a rural mechanico and decided a deal could be made. He roused the owner and haggled with him to get a deal on some heavily used but “not quite as bald” tires to replace the ones currently transporting us. We got out and stood around as the mechanic jacked up the car and replaced the tires. As we waited, his lovely teenaged sister appeared in the shop window. She allowed me to take a few pictures. She provided a nice interlude to a convoluted day.
A good story, a few good pictures…isn’t that what travel is all about?