The photographers I admire and respect the most are ones who are able to create an image in their mind prior to releasing the shutter and have their final image represent what they preconceived. This is a hard skill to master and one that I've been working towards for the past several years. In photography, it can be easy to just hold a camera up to our face and start firing like crazy.
There are photos that I have put a lot of time and effort in that were completely under appreciated. Then, there are photos that have been popular fan favorites that I simply got lucky on.
The photo below has been one of my most loved images, though it's always fallen flat in my eyes. I appreciate the story behind it, but the lighting is flat, the sky is boring, and it's fairly generic. And, I got lucky. It's hard for me to love one of my images when I feel like the photo took itself and I didn't put forth much effort in it. Throughout the years I've even tried to spice it up in Photoshop attempting to feel as though I have ownership over it.
We were riding this particular train when it entered a dark, long tunnel. The conductor told us that when we emerged from the other side we would be blessed with some of the best scenery of the trip. I managed to get a spot on the observation deck and held my camera up. I had no idea what kind of exposure I would need on the other side, what the scene would look like, or any other technical aspects I would have to be ready for. And so I did what many other photographers do from time to time; I held the camera up and hoped for the best.
I got lucky. We were situated in a perfect place on the train so in my photo the rest of the train wrapped perfectly around the side of the mountain. I was on the correct side of the train to actually see the drop off of the cliff. And, we weren't too far back that we couldn't see the engine of the train anymore.
People flipped over this photo, and I smiled and thanked them even though I felt like a fraud. I didn't pick where we sat on the train. I wouldn't have even known to have my camera ready if someone hadn't told me to. If I remember right, my dad even had to give me the extra encouragement to go on the deck as I was feeling kind of lazy.
While having basic camera competency was helpful in executing this image, the photo basically took itself.
The lesson here is that if you want to be a great photographer you have to be able to recognize the difference between a great photograph and a great subject. In this case, the subject was great.