Perhaps one of the biggest soul-sucking moments any photographer has to contend with is missing the shot. The frame takes shape with each element in its proper position, but you aren’t ready for it. Your camera may be tucked away or left home, and the photograph disappears as quickly as it appeared. While it may be gone, you remember it. Ask any photographer about missed images, and you’ll hear a story about the shot that got away. It’s a shared experience. If I’m going somewhere with a friend, I’ll comment on photographs as they happen. “That’s a photograph,” is the common refrain. If you’ve been photographing for some time, you probably have plenty of stories.
I do, a few of them from today even as I’m writing this (Monday, September 21, if you might be wondering). In one, a topless chubby boy is trying to hoist himself over a tall iron fence near a bridge as another smaller topless boy, having already cleared the fence, runs into the distance. In another, two Muslim men, complete with skull caps and traditional garb, their expressions glazed, sit at the top of a flight of stairs set into an apartment building. My camera was elsewhere, and I grimaced as each image took shape and then went away.
I’ve written about this before, about the importance of remembering the photographs you missed. Early on, they can be formative moments, but they can get to a point where they’re just routine. Well, there goes another one. Did you see that? No? I did. We can’t possibly take every image we see, and we all have to reckon with that at some point. I don’t always have my camera with me, a deliberate choice I assure you, however masochistic it may be, and when I do, it’s not always around my neck.
The mindset I’ve adopted is that there will be another photograph. It definitely won’t be the same photograph, but at some point somewhere, there will be another one. The missed moments, however, become something of a hazy gallery inside my mind. I say hazy because memory is perpetually distorted, and there’s an inclination to romanticize what has happened. It’s far more likely that a select few of the images I missed are actually good images. Of course, there’s no real way to accurately determine the keeper rate of missed images, but if real life is any indication, this hypothetical keeper rate is probably very low.
The idea, of course, is to keep going. Most missed images are, at most, bumps in the road. Some are potholes that’ll wreck your car for a while, but you’ll mend what’s broken and keep moving. There is the occasional deer that’ll nearly total your car, but you’ll keep moving because you have to. When that next photograph arrives, be ready.