John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

The One that Got Away

the one that got away

It could happen in a variety of ways. Maybe a friend says, “It was amazing! Too bad you weren’t there with your camera.” Of course, you’re taking your friend’s word for it. You didn’t see it with your own eyes, so that’s not nearly as frustrating as when you are there, but for some reason failed to get that incredible shot. Maybe you were looking the wrong way, slow on the draw with your camera, using the wrong settings to capture what inspired you, or driving on the highway and reluctant to jeopardize your life for the sake of a good photo. Or, in another situation familiar to every photographer, you see something absolutely marvelous to photograph, but you don’t have your camera with you.

It’s normal to feel regret about such missed opportunities for a great picture. We might remind ourselves about those shots we did take, fully expecting them to turn out spectacular, but they didn’t. Maybe that would have happened this time too, if we had our camera.

Trophies for eternity
We also don’t want to get too compulsive about capturing every interesting or beautiful thing we see, as if our trophy collection is never quite complete. Perhaps we have altruistic goals of preserving that incredible scene not just for ourselves, but for other people as well. On an unconscious level, we might even think, rather omnipotently, that we have captured that thing of beauty forever, that we have managed to take hold of eternity.

Of course, our rational mind tells us otherwise. Unless you’re an incredibly famous photographer, that great photo will most likely disappear in a generation, or two, or three. In fact, how many images of even the greatest photographers will still be around a thousand years from now?

Embrace impermanence
Rather than feeling morose about this impermanence, we can embrace it. Beautiful things come and go. That’s what makes them beautiful, as the Japanese say about the ephemeral cherry blossom. Perhaps what’s wonderful about photography isn’t simply its power to capture exquisite things, but how it teaches us to notice and appreciate them. Maybe missing the chance to capture that amazing scene makes it all the more special.


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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche