Canon recently released a commercial for its Rebel T4i DSLR camera. It shows various photographers braving the elements, wild animals and other hardships, putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations to get their shots. And I have to admit (much to my wife’s chagrin) that I am guilty of having my share of close calls. So why do photographers suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?
Why do war photographers travel to battle-scarred countries to risk their lives looking for “bang-bang,” as they call it?
Why do nature/wildlife photographers hike through nearly inaccessible terrain enduring extremes of heat and cold?
Newspaper photographers face the grind of the daily deadline, often pushing the limits of those deadlines (and their editors’ blood pressure) to get the right shot. Why do we often sacrifice our personal lives to arrive early and stay late?
Why do wedding photographers give up most of their weekends to ply their craft and perhaps deal “bridezillas” and their families?
Sports photographers, too, spend nights and weekends lugging heavy equipment around, never really enjoying the game because they’re too busy working it.
The answer is that they’re all in search of a single moment.
In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” urbanite Mitch (Billy Crystal) out on dude ranch cattle drive asks rough and tumble cowboy Curly (Jack Palance) the meaning of life. Curly raises a single forefinger and says “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.”
Mitch then asks “But, what is the ‘one thing?’” To which Curly replies: “That’s what you have to find out.”
Life everywhere is full of singular and special moments. It’s up to each photographer to decide which ones to capture.
For the war photographer, perhaps it’s the moment that tells the conflict that they’re covering is all about and the horrors of war. It could be a fallen soldier being carried to safety by his comrades or in the eyes of a child living in the horrors of a war zone.
The wedding photographer hopes to record a newlywed couple’s special day to show their happiness and newly created bond as they step into a life as husband and wife. It can come from a look, a touch of the hand or a smile between the two.
News photographers are witnesses and recorders of daily life around us, there to capture telling moments that will not only inform the reader but move them as well. We look for, sometimes lie in wait for, just that perfect moment that tells the story of the day.
You may think a landscape photo can be taken anytime, but a nature/wildlife shooter aims to not only capture the beauty of the natural world, but to look for that special slice of time. They trudge through snowy mountains or the searing sands of a desert for the moment when the light kisses a leaf or spreads across a mountain range.
Sports photographers look for that moment of “peak action.” It could be a football at the outstretched fingertips of a wide receiver, the ball leaving a shooting guard’s hands, or a ball flying from the end of a golfer’s club.
Although we all are photographers and we probably use similar equipment, there are different skill sets that the different types of photographer require. But what photographers of every discipline have in common is the satisfying feeling when we press the camera’s button, hear and feel the mirror flip up and the shutter open, and know that we’ve captured the perfect shot of that one special moment.