The Photos We Didn't Take
In the last few years, I've taken a number of photographs I'm pleased with. Even the best of those, though, can't compare to the photographs I didn't take.
There are many creative ways of not taking photographs. I discovered one of them after I'd driven an hour and a half to photograph a spot in Arizona's central highlands. As I was preparing the camera for action, I noticed that the battery was nearly dead. I chose the handful of shots I managed to take with care. They weren't nearly as good, of course, as the dozens of photographs I didn't take that morning.
The camera's battery provides an even simpler and more elegant way of not taking photographs. One morning I drove to the Superstition Mountains before dawn. As I arrived, I had a spectacular view of the rising sun lighting up some distant peaks. I'd post a photo of what it looked like, except I didn't take any. As I was setting up my gear, I realized that the camera battery was not in the camera. It was in the charger, plugged into an electrical outlet back at my house. I'm sure it was well charged and happy.
I have a theory that some photographic equipment just doesn't like to get up as early as I do. That would explain why I once arrived at Lake Pleasant at first light and found that my tripod hadn't made the trip. It must have needed the extra sleep. The beautiful early light came and went, unrecorded by my camera. When the sun rose and the light turned harsh and glaring, I was finally able to take some handheld shots.
There's another piece of camera gear that can lead to not taking photographs. I once camped at the rim of a secluded canyon. At dusk on the first day, I took a slew of shots, and later I took a number of shots by moonlight. At sunrise the next morning, just as the light on the canyon's rock formations was getting really dramatic, my CF card announced that it was full. The silence of that morning in the wilderness was shattered by my emphatic comment about this development. The editors of this website will not allow me to repeat it here.
By now you may be thinking: doesn't this guy understand that you can carry spare batteries and CF cards? The answer is that of course I do. Now.
When I first started using a DSLR, I used a sort of faith-based approach to camera settings. I just took it on faith that they would all be about right without necessarily checking them. I was still using that approach one morning when I photographed an abandoned ranch in a relatively inaccessible spot in southeastern Arizona. Just as the good light was fading, I realized that I had taken every shot at ISO 1600. That's where I'd left the camera set after taking a photo of the campfire the night before. Technically, of course, the photos I took that morning do not qualify as shots I didn't take. I have the photos. You can vaguely discern what I was trying to photograph through the blizzard of noise.
There are ways of not taking photographs that have nothing to do with photographic gear. For example, there was the day my Jeep got stuck in a sandy wash. I was eventually hauled out by two guys in a truck who were better-prepared than I was. They tried not to snicker too much. There were a lot of photographs I didn't take that day.
Then there was the time I got dehydrated. Somehow it slipped my mind that I was in the desert, and that it was important to keep taking in fluids to offset the fact that the bone-dry air was sucking them out of me as fast as it could. That experience led to a number of shots not being taken.
I could go on about ways I've found not to take photographs. Actually, though, I'd rather not.
Since this is a blog about photography, there ought to be a photograph somewhere in this post. I can't include an example of the photographs I didn't take. Here, though, is a photo that captures the side of me that led to those untaken shots.
I suspect we can all think of photographs we didn't take. We know certain things about those photographs beyond any real doubt. The photographs we didn't take were among our very best. Indeed, they were among the finest photographs of our era. Those photographs would have had the curators of the Museum of Modern Art calling us about an exhibit. We would long since have retired on the proceeds of the sales of those photographs.
The photographs I didn't take are displayed in a special place in my mind. They're right beside the sound of one hand clapping.