Photo: Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse sets next to windmill while coming out of totality in a rare 150-year convergence, Contra Costa County, California

Photo: Super Blood Blue Moon Lunar Eclipse sets next to an oak tree while coming out of totality in a rare 150-year convergence, Contra Costa County, CaliforniaPurchase Prints or License Usage. – ID# 180131na_BA3-0182

Photography: the Art of Chaos, Convergence, Synchronicity, and Luck; The rare Super Blue Blood Moon photo

Here’s a question, what role does luck plays in your photography?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Chance favors the prepared.” One of the best early photographic lessons I learned was regarding composition and the role of chaos, order, synchronicity, and luck, and how these elements work together to help create compelling imagery. This image of the recent super blood blue moon lunar eclipse highlights how these aspects work together.

When I teach, I try and pass on many lessons I learned from my old boss, acclaimed landscape and adventure photographer, Galen Rowell. He used to say that part a photographer’s job — in terms of translating a 3-dimensional world into a 2-dimensional medium — was to create Order out of Chaos, and you had to do it within the confines of the little rectangular or square space defined by the edges of your viewfinder.

The world is filled with millions of chaotic elements. As photographers, one of our first decisive tasks is figuring out where and why to place elements within a frame so they will help communicate the story of whatever we are trying to show. The reason this is so important is that first and foremost above everything else we must remember that photography is a communication medium. If the way you’ve arranged subjects or elements in your frame is not helping tell your story, then you must figure out a compositional solution prior to clicking the shutter-release button.

By creating order, or the seeming imposition of order upon often random or chaotic elements within our frame, the viewer can more easily comprehend how they relate to each other, even if those relationships are completely disparate within the real world. By creating blatant, liminal, or subliminal relationships, we build upon those elements that which creates a sense of synchronicity, thereby ehnancing the visual strength of our imagery and storytelling.

Photo: Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse sets next to an oak tree while coming out of totality in a rare 150-year convergence, Contra Costa County, California

I use several apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills to figure out the angle and timing of the lunar eclipse-set. Since I wasn’t trying to do a multi-frame or complex blended exposure, I realized I could catch the lunar eclipse setting just during the blue hour behind an oak tree I had shot many years ago not too far from my house. Once on location, I was able to position myself so the moon would appear exactly between several prominent branches to create this moment of perfect synchronicity. Dare I say… even my mom called to ask me if this was real or photoshopped.  *Rolls Eyes*  – I guess this is a hallmark of today’s distrust that Photoshop and the ‘too perfect’ image has created. (Photo: Lunar Eclipse setting behind an oak tree. – Purchase Prints or License Usage.)

After getting this shot in several variations from the location I had picked out, and as the moon started to sink behind the hillside, I hopped in my truck and started driving further down the country road. A few moments later, the moon popped out from behind a ridge and appeared to be setting behind this windmill. My brain was instantly able to connect these two round shapes so close to one another and knew that I had to stop and get this shot.

Photo: Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse sets next to windmill while coming out of totality in a rare 150-year convergence, Contra Costa County, California

For beginning photographers who are less experienced with this compositional concept, I’m including an illustration to show how some of these random and chaotic elements combined to create this sense of visual order and synchronicity within the frame. This includes the circular shapes, the crescent arcs, as well as the straight lines of the windmill Tower seeming to mimic the shape of the horizon and ridgelines  (Granted, it’s not as pretty with the lines drawn all over it.)

It’s this seeming convergence of chaotic elements that creates synchronicity. The Super Blue Blood Moon was a rare convergence, with over 150 years since its last appearance here in the United States. In the tree photo, there’s an imaginary line connecting those two branches, and the moon seems to have converged right on the balance point between them.  In the later photo, seeing the moon setting in tandem with the round windmill and barrel created a super-super-convergence.

But what about that final element, luck; What role does luck play in our photography? The shot with the windmill was obviously my lucky shot since it was completely unplanned, yet it appears to be a perfectly planned moment. The luck element was simply turning right instead of left when I got back on the road after shooting at my first location. Had I turned left, this image never would have existed. The moment certainly existed, but like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, if there’s no photographer around to catch it, the moment simply passes by. You have to be there to hear a tree fall or to capture and preserve a moment with your camera.

All of this put together harkens back to several of the lessons I mentioned in a post from last summer about my Five Favorite Photo Lessons from Galen Rowell, with those being, “Chance Favors the Prepared,” and “Move!” This is that idea that the more prepared you are, the more ‘luck’ you’ll encounter, and if things aren’t coming together well in your frame, make the choice to move so you can create those stronger visual relationships and thereby tell your story with greater clarity.

So, What role does luck play in your photography? Got a Lucky Shot?  Leave a comment and tell me about it. (Feel free to leave a link to the image as well, ‘cuz honestly, I’d rather see it, also.)

Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.


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