Posted by: kerryl29 | April 27, 2015

The Shot

Photographer Michael Gordon, in a recent piece on his blog, discussed “getting the shot.”  The primary focus of the post covers the notion of “getting the shot” as a kind of conquest or triumphal experience.  A related, but distinct, concept covered near the end of the article is the implication that the term “the shot” implies that there is merely one, single shot to be had at a given photo location.

If you read the original post, you’ll see that Michael is less than complimentary about each of these ideas.  I wholeheartedly agree with him, and I’d like to share a few thoughts of my own on the subjects.

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Photography as Conquest

Proceeding with the notion that there’s a specific shot to identify and obtain from a given location makes me think of having a to-do list and ticking off the items as they’re accomplished.  Feed the cat, check.  Drop off the dry cleaning, check.  Paint the garage, check.  Procure photograph of Delicate Arch in evening light.  Check.

Another way of looking at it is to think of individual photographs as preconceived items in a collection, like stamps or coins.  Tunnel View, Old Faithful, Mesa Arch at Sunrise, Schwabacher’s Landing…now if I can just pick up the Maroon Bells at peak color…

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

I suppose there may be people out there who gain some sense of satisfaction by applying these kinds of approaches to landscape photography and, if there are, who am I to judge?  But, this is utterly different from how I think about the endeavor.  The enjoyment and satisfaction that I attain from participating in landscape photography stems from embedding myself in a location and really looking around, trying to find visually appealing scenes, large and small; in spectacular light and even light; images that may mesh with whatever preconceived notions I inevitably bring to the subject and ones that may not.  The enjoyment, then, comes–at least in part–from the interweaving of the intellectual and aesthetic process of image making in the field.

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

None of this is to say that I won’t, under any circumstances, make images of iconic scenes; I certainly have in the past and presumably will in the future.  But I’ve never arrived at an iconic location, obtained “the shot” and moved on.  Ever.  That wouldn’t be much fun, I don’t think.

One Shot Pony

I’ve discussed the notion of approaching a scene with a preconceived idea of what will be found and what a shot will look like on several past occasions right here on this blog.  I have “visualized” a scene on a few occasions, and gone out looking to fulfill a vision a few times.  But this is the exception to the general rule, which typically follows a more serendipitous undertaking.  As I intimated, even when I approach a location with a clear, specific idea of what I expect to find there (often based on previous experience at the spot), I try to keep an open mind and act accordingly.

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I’m not sure that there’s anything worse for a photographer’s creativity than approaching a scene with a one-shot-only mentality.  There’s a certain self-fulfilling prophecy that surrounds this sort of mindset:  look for only one image and you’ll find only one image.  There’s always more than a single composition worthy of consideration at a given scene; it’s completely counterproductive to think otherwise.  It’s arguably acceptable for some photographers to approach a scene with the intention of obtaining a particular image; that’s what visualization is about, in a nutshell.  I’ve done that myself, as I’ve indicated above.  But if a preconceived image is held, once it’s obtained, the photographer must be able to look at things with a clear, open mind.  Shifting gears is a necessary skill if you’re going to play the visualization game and not let every other photo opportunity pass you by.

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

“The Shot” mentality is a very dicey–at best–way to approach landscape photography, in my estimation.  It puts figurative blinders on the photographer, thereby stifling creativity, potentially turning the entire endeavor into little more than a trophy hunting expedition.  If that’s what you want, I guess that’s fine.  But if you derive satisfaction from the experience of exploring, discovering image making opportunities on location, “the shot” is a tremendous impediment to realizing your potential as an original maker of photographic images.

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona



  1. Perhaps, from a slightly different perspective, I also find that I see things very differently when I’m out with a camera. My attention seems to be drawn to “shots” and it focuses on things that I would ordinarily overlook. I see this as a gift. Would that be the polar opposite of going for “the shot”?

    • That’s interesting. I don’t see differently when I’m out with the camera than I do when sans photo gear. At one time, I may have–probably did, in fact. It was some time in 2006 when I realized that I was “seeing images” all the time–with or without the camera in hand. I don’t think that had been the case previously (though I can’t say for certain). But I did feel as though I’d unconsciously crossed some sort of consequential threshold at that point–or perhaps, more accurately, that my recognition of what was going on signaled some sort of “aesthetic significance.”

      But that’s just me; I don’t think that this sort of experience is something that will happen to everyone, nor do I think it’s all that important if it does or doesn’t. If having the camera in hand puts you “in the visual zone,” so to speak, that’s great. I’m not sure that this constitutes the polar opposite of the “one-shot” mentality that I alluded to in this post, but to the extent that it broadens your visual horizons beyond where they would otherwise be…I think that’s a very good thing.

      • Perhaps the camera in hand is a trigger to focus or pay attention. I can be pretty oblivious without that cue.

        • Whatever works!

  2. Very Beautiful….

  3. I agree for the most part, “getting the shot” is something I’ve been guilty of, and seldom does the weather or other conditions cooperate when I’ve been to some of the more iconic places. That’s led to frustration on my part, which in turn destroys any chance that I had of getting even a good shot.

    From reading your blog, and applying what I know about wildlife photography, my landscape photography skills have been improving, by shooting what catches my eye when I see it, rather than going off in search of “The Shot”.

    I still have a long way to go, but I can see improvement in my landscape skills thanks to you.

    I do disagree a little with the part about trophy hunting, for trophies aren’t always where they are supposed to be, whether a big buck or a great landscape. Trophies are where you find them. 😉 For example, this past weekend I got a shot of a lone Canada goose watching a beautiful sunrise, at a wastewater treatment facility if you can believe it. Will it make the cover of a magazine, not likely, but it’s one of my better landscapes so far. As we talked about earlier, I stalked that shot, getting in a position so that I’d get the red sky reflecting off from the water around the goose, rather than settling for what I saw as the sun rose.

    • Thanks, as always, for weighing in.

      Perhaps I should clarify my use of the term “trophy hunting.” I think of it as doing what is necessary to procure a specific, known trophy–synonymous, in effect, with a “getting the shot” mentality. The way you’re using it a photograph, that happens to be trophy worthy, which is a very different (and, IMO, laudable) thing. So, I’m not sure that there’s really any disagreement here, just a different meaning attached to the same pair of words. 🙂

  4. While a vision of “the shot” may be the initial motivation that takes us to a location, really seeing, exploring, experimenting, and embracing what is there helps us get “a shot” we are happy with. I think some of that satisfaction comes from the enjoyment of the process as you have said in your post.

  5. A good, make em think piece…thanks!

    • Thanks very much!

  6. I enjoy reading what you had to say and agree. I find that my most interesting landscapes come when I listen to hear the personality of where I am. I always have to move around a lot, look for how light illuminates the place, and experiment with different focal lengths and macros. Of course I have to use my thinking and knowledge, but it is the place that produces the photographs that help me tell its story.

    • Sounds as though we have a similar in-field m.o. As I’ve mentioned periodically in the past, I’m always trying to “let the landscape speak for itself.” I’m sure my personal proclivities impact that expression, but hopefully not to an extent that it blots out whatever organic appeal a place has.

  7. Incredibly Awesome…

  8. You have a wonderful way with the camera. I enjoyed these photos.

    • Thanks very much!

  9. Great post Kerry – then I got lost following over to Micheal Gordon and on from his site . . . . . . . interesting discussions going on and I now follow a few more landscape photographers 🙂

    • Thanks, Lee, and good deal on your wanderings and followings.

  10. now that is what i callllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll: NICE!

    • Thank you.


      • what is your gmail account?

        • Yes, I’m in the U.S.

          I don’t have a gmail account, but you can reach me by e-mail at:

          kerry AT lightscapesphotography DOT com

          Replace the AT with @ and the DOT with .

        • what time did you said this in U.S.A.

        • Forgive me, but I’m not sure what you’re asking me.

          I’ll take a crack at answering, however–the time stamp on my comments reflects the local time they are posted. If that doesn’t answer your question, please let me know.

        • what was the time when you were commenting?

        • Every comment has a time/date stamp associated with it and the time shown is local time (where I am) when the comment was posted. So this comment will be posted a few minutes after 9 AM. My previous comment to you in this thread was posted at 9:26 AM yesterday. So, to find the time for any comment I have made, find the comment and in the thread and the time will be displayed.

          Hope that helps.

        • i’m in malaysia and your in what state of U.S.A.

        • I’m in Illinois part of the time and Indiana part of the time.

        • ok

        • OK

        • and i don’t understand at all???

  11. The first one had my attention and I kept reading, observing and thinking from there.

    • Thanks very much!

  12. […] succeeded in doing so, to any extent, it’s a function of being able to look past a “get the shot mentality.”  Even on those occasions when I do go to a particular location with a specific […]

  13. […] it takes years to scratch a festering itch.  These aren’t occasions to tick certain “get the the shot” items off of a list.  They are, at least for me, reflective of the chance to experience […]

  14. […] a hard list of things you’re going to do can be incredibly limiting, much like having “the shot” mentality.  If you’re only looking for one thing you’re relatively unlikely to […]

  15. […] in my view) on this blog before.  I’ve also covered the notion of “the shot” mentality when in the field, and tied it all up in a bow or at least attempted to do so.  But I want to […]

  16. […] several previous occasions on this blog I’ve discussed the subject of “The Shot” mentality and how it can lead to a kind of tunnel vision when out in the field.  That, with a serving of […]

  17. […] getting “the shot” means waiting, and occasionally one must linger longer than […]

  18. […] more significant than the disappointment that stems from not getting “the shot” that you’re specifically seeking is the realization that there are many other images […]

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