Oddly enough (or embarrassingly enough) it was actually a conversation in a movie that got me thinking about this topic recently.
“There are several quintessential moments in a man’s life– losing his virginity, getting married, becoming a father, and having the right girl smile at you.”
While we can endlessly debate what the quintessential moments in life are (as well as the philosophical merits of 1985’s “St. Elmo’s Fire), I think we can all agree that we have them. They are moments that define us. Benchmark moments along our timeline (NOT the Facebook kind) where we look back and see how something important about us or our lives took shape.
The same is true about our photography. I don’t care if you’re a seasoned professional who’s been shooting for decades, or a relative newcomer to the craft. Along the way you have already encountered or will experience certain quintessential moments– photos which, to one extent or another, help define you as a photographer.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to review an advance copy of Zack Arias’ first book, “Photography Q&A – Real Questions. Real Answers.” In it, he cautions that “they may not be your best photos. They may not even be great photos. But something about a benchmark photo shows a turning point in your career or craft.”
But what exactly makes a moment so…momentous? Like I said– your moments and mine won’t always (if ever) be the same. Did you have a moment of clarity when all of the pieces to the off-camera flash puzzle finally fell into place? Were you about to give up on street photography when you just happened to capture the perfect expression from an unsuspecting subject? Maybe you donated your time and expertise to a good cause. Moments in time. Quintessential moments in the life of a photographer.
I took this photo on January 28, 2009 at about 2:00 in the afternoon in Hartwell, Georgia– a small town about two hours north of Atlanta. I shot it with a banged-up Nikon D100 and a kit lens. I’d arrived in town with a couple of hours to kill before photographing some teams at the local high school and I was looking for something to shoot. Driving aimlessly, venturing further and further away from where I needed to be, I pulled into a small side road to turn around. I slammed on my brakes when I saw it. Suddenly, nothing else in the world mattered– I HAD to photograph THAT tree. I don’t know what compelled me to turn where I did, but “Lonely Tree” became the first photo of mine that someone bought– not because they were in it or knew somebody who was– but simply because they liked it.
Sort of like having the right girl smile at you.
This is not the best photo in my portfolio. There are flaws, even if I am not my own worst critic– which I undoubtedly am. But it is, without question, one of my quintessential moments. Somebody liked something that I created enough to want to buy it and hang it on their wall. While that was huge at the time, it still resonates with me today on several levels.
Quintessential moments are important. They are circles on a road map, reminding us of where we’ve been. Where we’ve gone. And hopefully what we’ve learned about ourselves along the way. Don’t go looking for them and don’t try to create them. Just know that they’re out there and be ready to embrace them when they show up.
About The Author
Jeff Guyer is a photographer based in Atlanta, GA., who currently specializes in commercial and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and other special events.