Dictionary.com defines serendipity as “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” That’s a bit dull for my tastes. Instead, I prefer the UrbanDictionary.com definition: “a very good coincidence, often leading to something really awesome.”
So, with that second definition in mind, I’d like to briefly explore the idea of serendipity – happy accidents – in my photography. It seems to me that there are two different kinds of happy accidents in photography: the images you just happen to find while wandering around, and the images that contain an element that you aren’t aware of until you examine them later. Both sorts of serendipitous images add to the ‘Woohoo Factor’ in my photography.
Let’s start with the images you come across while just wandering. I think these are my favourite images because they reward the observant, expectant eye. And I’ve found that the more I expect to find the unexpected in my daily wanderings, the more I’m rewarded with awesome images. The more you do it, the better you get, not unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 + hour rule to become really proficient at something. Of course, it helps if you always have your camera with you!
Here are some examples. The first is a display in the men’s clothing department at a Hudson’s Bay store in Toronto. I had taken a shortcut through The Bay to get to the subway and came across this marvellous set of mannequins. Wasn’t looking for it, but there it was. What a gift!
Then there was the day I walked across Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s City Hall. There was this elegantly dressed woman on her cell phone sitting on a bench. Pure poetry.
Next, on a visit to Belleville’s Value Village, a collection of naked Ken dolls appeared unexpectedly. Not something you deliberately set out to find.
And then there’s the front end of my friend’s Audi reflected in the afternoon light of his carport. Beauty!
The second kind of serendipitous image features an element you didn’t know about when you recorded it – a surprise that adds a bit of OMG to the ‘Woohoo Factor’.
Consider this image that I recorded yesterday in Toronto on my way back to Union Station from Ripley’s Aquarium. While walking through the condo canyon, I spotted a building on the south side of the street attractively reflected in the midday light of a building on the north side. What I didn’t see until I got home was the phallic flourish. Normally, I notice this sort of thing right away…
Then, there’s this photo of Canada Geese on the Moira River in Belleville. I didn’t notice until later that at the instant I recorded the image, a rogue seagull tried to swoop through.
Next is an image I recorded of the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks in Belleville using my old Canon PowerShot camera with the digital telephoto lens cranked up to maximum. It was only afterwards that I noticed the boy crossing the tracks. His presence helps transform the image from ho-hum to intriguing.
Finally, there’s my favourite serendipitous happy accident: at last June’s Quinte International Air Show at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, I was recording images of the huge Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177 Globemaster. What I didn’t realize was that a random seagull had inserted itself into one of the images – and had managed to stay in focus while consigning the Globemaster to background fuzziness. Gotta love those seagulls, not to mention my very clever Canon 70D camera!
In summary, let me quote the American playwright Katori Hall: “Serendipity always rewards the prepared.” Which essentially means keep your eyes open and your camera ready.
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Until next time.