Articles, magazines and books about photography provide a lot of useful information for photographers of all levels, but they usually do not do sufficient justice to one major element.
Waiting, and consequently anticipating, are in my opinion essential habits that every potential photographer or hobbyist should always practice. In fact, keeping those elements in mind and being consciously aware of them can bring a much higher potential to most of the photographic situations you come across. So here I will focus on how you can contribute to the quality of your photos simply by making use of your patience. I will go through examples to explain in detail the process of waiting.
At first, you might say “but what happens around the subject are completely external factors that I cannot control.” You’re right, you can’t control them, but you can learn to integrate them in many cases. It can bring emotion into your photo, it may contrast with something in your frame, it can add a whole different dynamic to the composition, and most importantly, it can give soul and meaning to your photo.
The examples I will be sharing with you are not meant to be about me or my work. They are only there to illustrate the message I want to get across. And I think that explaining personal experiences is the best way to achieve that. Hopefully, you will gain something from them.
Passive waiting vs active waiting
When I came across this metal statue, I was impressed and thought it was worthy of a picture. So I walked around it, testing different perspectives, looking at the lights, shadows and reflections, searching for a good angle. Then, once I decided to take a profile portrait and having found my position, I stood there and started waiting.
First, my waiting was passive. I waited for the people who were taking tourist pictures to move away. In tourist locations, this by itself is a good exercise in patience. You do not leave a good subject only because you have to wait for a few people to move away. (Of course, if you are using an ND filter it’s a different matter, as it makes the exposure time longer and can blur moving objects to the point that they vanish).
So passive waiting is what you do when you are already in position, with your subject framed, and you are ready to shoot, but you have to wait for your scene to meet the basic conditions. This could be waiting for people to move away, or the sun to show up again during a partially cloudy day, or a bus that just stopped in your field of view to move away, or the street to become free of cars so that you can take position in the middle of it to get the best angle.
As the scene cleared of people, a mother with her little daughter started coming closer to the statue, watching it from a few meters away. At this point, I became more alert and my waiting became active: I started waiting for the little girl to come into the scene I had chosen.
When you are actively waiting, you are on the tip of your toes: the precise right timing to shoot might come at any moment, and you should not miss it. You are much more alert, you are on the watch for any action, and you are vigilantly anticipating the perfect moment.
The girl first contemplated the statue from the front, and then she started walking around it towards the back. Of course, at this point I was ready behind my camera, and there was only me, the scene, and the little girl. Everything else ceased to exist. I waited a bit, and then, as she came back in view … BINGO! Her small hand came up to touch the big rough ear, contemplating this strange, huge, baby head, the sun hitting her light dress contrasting with the back part of the head in the shadow. Innocence and curiosity were embodied in her pose and gesture. It was the perfect moment.
Now, just imagine the same picture without the little girl. It would be a completely different picture, and would lose its meaning and impact, won’t it?
Wait for a specific event
Talking about waiting, I was waiting for my train on this platform. Thanks to the lighting, the mood of the scene was very interesting. So I tried to capture every aspect of the lighting: the rays of light throughout the space, the long shadow of the man, the spots of direct light on the platform and the matte reflections on the concrete ceiling. As you may have noticed, I shot the picture precisely when the woman on the bridge above came into the light, blocking the rays and casting a long shadow. This small detail was planned and plays a role in capturing different aspects of the lighting in this scene.
As I was walking by this field and reached the curve ahead, I thought it would be a fine perspective to shoot from. So I took out my camera, and as I was preparing my settings and framing, I saw a cyclist riding from far away coming in my direction. I felt that he would bring life and movement into the picture, so I had to hurry up to be able to shoot him on time. And here it is. Without the cyclist, this photo would’ve been rather empty.
Wait for a surprise
The bird was just sitting there. Once all my settings were ready and the framing was chosen, I stood there waiting for the bird to make a move. Perhaps a couple of minutes later, it made this wide movement with its head, and that created an interesting tension in the scene.
Waiting & creativity
People might think that waiting does not apply to static subjects because nothing could potentially happen. This is not always true. In architectural photography, for example, the presence of people (usually very few) can add richness and a sense of scale to the photo. So even with static subjects you can combine patience with creativity to add a new dimension to the scene.
As an architect, I visited the famous Arab World Institute in Paris, designed by Jean Nouvelle. This photo illustrates the idea of using more than what is presented in the scene. In addition to its unusual perspective, it also integrates a complementary element that adds life and a point of color. I intentionally waited while small groups of people walked by, until that man came into the frame alone.
Not missing the right moment
Now, once you develop the patience of waiting for something special that adds a new dimension to your photo, you have to be careful not to miss the magic moment. There is some gambling in this: if you shoot half a second earlier or later, you might just miss the right moment.
In this shot, the pigeon obviously wasn’t flying when I decided to take the picture. Both of them were sitting on that electric cable, so I aimed at them, waiting for “something” to happen. I didn’t know one of them was saying goodbye, but I was ready, and again, BINGO! Of course there’s an element of luck with this kind of shot, but you always have to be ready for every opportunity if you want to catch any!
So when you see a dynamic potential in a situation, I suggest that you keep your eye behind your camera for a while. You wait for something in particular to happen or you try to be ready for something unpredictable. In most cases, patience is your friend, and you will be really glad that you waited with your finger on the button.
Please feel free to share some examples where your patience had brought your photos to life!
About Nizar Bredan – I have been practicing photography as a hobby for several years, and recently I adopted it as a part time profession besides my main activity as an architect. So I haven’t studied photography formally and I am not a professional photographer, but my passion and curiosity led me through the treasures of this realm of possibilities. You are welcome to visit my website, it is open 24/7!