Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. That’s according to Wikipedia.
You’ve probably seen bumper stickers saying “Sh*t Happens”. Forest Gump might even have originated it if you believe the movie. Serendipity probably qualifies as the polar opposite. In photography, serendipity can happen on frequent occasions—it is just a matter of whether the photographer is ready enough, or aware enough to capture it.
A friend told me his best pine marten images were taken when he was set up trying to photograph pikas. He said the marten came out of the rocks, posed for quite a few shots and then continued off on the hunt for the little pikas. Another photographer showed me his photos of an ermine that popped his head out of the snow while he was waiting for bighorn sheep to move around on the cliffs.
I was set up taking the normal landscape shots at Schwabacher Landing a few years ago when a moose cow came out of the brush and began heading south. I grabbed my tripod and ran to a spot I thought she might pass in front of the Tetons. I got a few, but I wasn’t too prepared for the incident. I was still set up for landscape shots, with low ISO, closed down aperture settings, slow shutter speeds and shutter delay set to a few seconds in my camera’s menus. I managed to get the ISO up and aperture opened up a little. When she crossed one spot, I pressed the shutter only to realize the 2 second shutter delay let her cross and go out of my desired spot. I moved again, made a change in the menus and finally got a shot or two. I had another similar story, not far from Schwabacher taking landscape panos, when a wolf chased an elk across the creek right in front of me. The black wolf stopped in the middle of the stream and looked at me, but in that case, I didn’t have time to make all of the necessary adjustments and didn’t get any shots at all. Everyone will have their own similar stories. You know…”Sh*t Happens!”
Of course, there are times when an aware photographer might have time to adjust and get shots others would miss. For example, you could be set up for landscapes at one of the pools at Schwabacher landing and hear the distinctive sounds of a trumpeter swan just out of sight. A few quick settings changes and you could be ready for the shot if it were to happen. To some, it might appear like you had an serendipitous moment.
The image at the top of the page was taken a few years ago on Spring Gulch Road. Several Great Gray Owls spent the spring along the road and I spent quite a few days there. Increasing the days also increases the chances to get quality shots, of course. One morning, I saw one of the owls land on a buck rail fence. I had already taken quite a few of them on buck rail fences, so just stayed put in hopes of it flying back out to catch a field mouse or vole. Instead, it jumped off the buck rail fence into the snow under it. When I saw it next, it had something white in its beak. Wow! It was an ermine. The owl flew across in front of me and to my right where it overshot its perch and landed on the ground. I moved to the area and set up quickly. The owl came out of the underbrush and sat there with it’s price catch folded in its beak as if to show off. I got maybe six shots and it went back under an overhanging bush. It is hard to say the image is a once-in-a-lifetime image, but I don’t know anyone else with anything even similar.
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About the Photo: Predators : Prints are available for sale. Click Here!
Nikon D300 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens on a Gitzo tripod and Arca-Swiss Z-1 Ballhead: ISO 400, F/8, 1/500th sec.
About the Photo: Grand Lightning : Prints are available for sale. Click Here!
Nikon D300 with a Nikon 24-70 mm lens on a Gitzo tripod and Arca-Swiss Z-1 Ballhead: Lightning Trigger used: ISO 100, F/9, 1/10th sec.: