Why didn't I take that photo?

Boats in a lake

It’s Friday. Time for a treat. We’re bringing you the first in an occasional series written by Ross Sheddon, who’s an official ship’s photographer on a cruise liner. How much of an awesome job is that? We thought that we could enjoy his wanderings vicariously, as he talks us through where in the world he happens to be at the moment, and what he’s learned about photography in the process. In turn, what we can learn, too. And try not to turn green with envy. So, here we go, where in the world is Ross, and why didn’t he take that photo?

It’s a beautiful day in Scotland, the sun’s out, it’s almost warm. But I’m not there. Early morning and two hours north east of Qingdao I can see my breath on the cold clear window of the old bus. I wiped the condensation away for the hundredth time as the most amazing vistas of barren fields and leafless trees swept by.

I absent mindedly flicked the shutter speed up another notch on my trusty old 40D. It had been sitting in my lap like a sleeping child for most of the journey. It, like me, had very little to do until we reached our destination.

I sighed, a basic lesson of being a professional is this: You never shoot through windows. And you never, never, never shoot through the windows of a moving vehicle. The urge is always there but training and experience tells you that the shot will not be one of quality. You don’t do it, it’s the rules.

I’m sure you think you see where I’m going with this, rules are meant to be broken et cetera, et cetera. That’s for another article, what to take away from this is not to break the rules, simply to be ready. The best shot will come at you when you least suspect it and if you’re not ready you’ve no chance to capture it. You can’t always be in the front row of the rock concert; you’ve got to make the best of the opportunities that arise.

The bus swerves to give more room to an old truck trying to pass on the inside of the blind bend and I grip my camera a little tighter in reassurance. A flash of trees. A lake appears. It’s there for two seconds or more then it’s gone.

On a small back road, far outside Beijing, early in the morning, I’ve grabbed an image from the world around me. It’s not the sort that you get a second chance to shoot; my colleague behind me didn’t have her camera case open before it was past. If you’re ready when the shot comes you can take it, if not… well we’ve all had the pleasure of looking enviously at our friends and colleagues shots from the day we forgot to charge our battery and accidently left the spare packs in our other bag.

It may not be a shot that’s going to win any competitions; it may not sell as stock. It may simply sit forever on my hard drive but I got it. I got it. Every time I look at the image it reminds me of that time and place, the feel of the piece deeply invokes in me the memories of the moment, of the trip, of the whole country.

Around us at all times are shots waiting to be discovered. If we don’t have a camera in our hands then we’re going to be missing that opportunity. You can’t walk around every day with all your equipment strung around you like a Jessops-sponsored Rambo. I only suggest that when you know something might come, when you’re in an interesting place, have you camera set up and ready to crack of that shot before it presents itself, otherwise who knows what you’ll miss.

Perhaps more importantly remember, whatever country you’re in, the same things will always stop you grabbing that perfect shot:

  • Make sure all your batteries are charged.
  • Don’t leave your memory cards by the PC.
  • Put your camera back into your bag.
  • And never leave your passport in a Starbucks in Singapore – but that’s a story for another time.

Ross is a portrait photographer and digital artist, currently working for Princess. In his career he’s worked everywhere from Vietnam to China to Egypt, Greece, Alaska, and back. Despite running out of new countries to visit his eyes remain open for new weird and wonderful sights always around him.