To be a good photographer you have to be fearless. A little bit of fear can be a good thing. It can keep us from missing a great shot by keeping us on our toes, keep our eyes looking for an great or unusual angle from which to take our photo.
But there is another kind of fear that can keep us from a getting good photo. The fear of embarrassment or looking like a fool. There is a Japanese saying that goes: “the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.” I used to be that way as a shy and awkward young man in many social situations. Being in the background, I became an observer, and it led me to become a photographer. It was something that I had to learn to overcome. While there might be times where inhabiting the background can be advantageous, most of the time to get a great shot you can’t be afraid of sometimes making a spectacle of yourself.
Fear can paralyze us, keep us from taking a chance, from striving to get something more than the ordinary. Timidity can keep us from trying a new angle. We can all be afraid to look like a fool by standing on a chair or kneeling on the floor for a different vantage point. People will look and stare, of course, but you just have to ignore it and think about your shot.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious. You need to be aware of your surroundings. You don’t want to step out into oncoming traffic and get mowed down by an oncoming bus or walk around a sketchy part of town alone with thousands of dollars worth of camera gear around your neck. You have to be aware of your situation and surroundings. Nor this does it mean that you have to be rude. Saying “please” and “thank you” when asking to take someone’s picture can go along way. A simple and sincere “excuse me” is welcome when moving in front of someone else to get to a better position.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a pair of plum trees on the University of the Pacific in Stockton. Their beautiful pink blossoms were in full bloom, and the sun was hitting them just so. I wanted to get a shot with a person or two walking by. The problem was that the lowest branches of the tree were about 7 to 8 feet off the ground. The angle I wanted was with some of the blossoms in the foreground close to the lens and the people in the background. But without a tall ladder (limited tree-climbing skills) I was out of luck. Near the base of one of the trees was a 4-1/2-ft tall garbage can with a decorative wrought-iron cage surrounding .
It was late in the afternoon, and I surmised that most classes were over as foot traffic was very sparse. I knew that I would look a bit foolish standing on the can, so I hemmed and hawed for a bit. Then I thought: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” The can was a bit too tall for me to mount without stretching my pants to their ripping point, but fortunately there was a bike rack about three feet away. So rather inelegantly I put a foot on the rack, pushed my way up and stepped both feet, one at a time, onto the garbage can.
Gingerly I shuffled my feet around the edges of the can to position myself to get the shot that I wanted. One false move and I could easily have slipped and found myself waist deep in refuse. My head was literally up in the branches of the tree surrounded by the blossoms. I took a few test shots and then waited for someone to pass by. And I waited and waited. I could have gotten down and waited on the ground, but given the production that went into getting up I thought that one time was enough.
I must have been a sight, standing on the can. A couple of times I could hear a few people moving past behind me, out of camera shot. Then a young man started walking toward me in the distance. He got closer, and I thought this might be my shot. I fired off a few frames but he was too far into the shadows and not quite in the right spot. As he walked past he said to me: ”Anything to get the shot, eh?”
A few minutes later a couple walked by closer to the camera.. They shot me a quizzical look or two as they passed by, but I knew I had perhaps a not perfect, but at least a good, picture. Anything to get the shot? Yes indeed.