Five Lucky Photos

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. For me, luck means getting a decent picture even though I use precisely the wrong settings, or when I use exactly the wrong equipment for the situation. Yep, I admit that I benefit from luck a lot.

The photos included in this story aren’t necessarily great shots—I imagine you’ve done better. But under the circumstances, I’m happy with them. I probably didn’t deserve to get any shot at all.

The photo at the top of this column is a good example. I was working with a very talented model at a public park. We were standing in front of an immense Victorian mansion. She found a door that I never knew existed and decided to find out what was behind it. She discovered a smallish alcove with a set of steps that spiraled up into seemingly nowhere.

When she turned around to see if I was following her, the warm light from a stained glass window flooded over her face and shoulders. I raised my camera and shot without thinking at all. (I shot it with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 and Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.4, 1/60 sec, ISO 160. ©Jon Sienkiewicz)

Fujifilm X-M1 with Fujifilm XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II lens zoomed to 50mm, f/5.6 at 1/125 sec and ISO 6400 ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Returning from Manhattan by ferry on a fall evening in 2013, I noticed a young commuter lost in the private world of her iPad. I had been shooting Cokin special effects filters in the city and wasn’t prepared for a handheld lowlight shot on a moving ship.

I had the wrong lens—the Fujifilm kit zoom that winks down to f/5.6 when zoomed out fully—but I cranked up the ISO to 6400 and tried it anyway. I like the shot. The star effects from the lights on shore? Those are from the Cokin star filter that I didn’t bother to remove. See? Sometimes even when I mess up, Lady Luck has my back.

Nikon D800 with Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, f/7.1 at 1/200 sec and ISO 100. Processed in-camera using the Color Outline function on the Retouch menu. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

A borough near where I live hosts a parade every Memorial Day, complete with free hot dogs and soda for all. I was shooting with a Nikon D800 and a Sigma 8mm Fisheye (nice lens, by the way). I was trying to get some mustard for my frankfurter and I set the camera down on one corner of the condiment table. For the hell of it, I fired the shutter.

You can see the end of a hot dog bun in the foreground; other than that, the composition is pretty good. The shot was intentional, but what happened later wasn’t. I wasn’t paying attention and I accidentally processed the original in-camera using the Color Outline function on the Retouch menu. Voilà! It’s a mistake but I’ll keep it.

Vintage 2006 7.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot A710 IS converted to shoot IR only, exposure of f/4 at 1/80 sec (per EXIF) and ISO 100. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

On a lark, I bought a Canon PowerShot that had been converted to capture Infrared only. I already owned a converted DSLR at the time, but I thought it would be great to be able to do some IR stuff ad hoc, without packing a larger camera, etc.

The Canon A710 was a remarkably good little point-and-shoot in its unadulterated form, so I expected the chopped camera to be good, too. Unfortunately, it did a lousy job of basically everything. Autofocus was off, autoexposure incorrect and it looked like it had been dragged behind a pickup truck for a few blocks.

Even more unfortunately, it was the only camera I had with me one day at Ringwood Manor, one of my favorite spots in New Jersey. Making a long story short, I tried a few shots anyway, and this one was a keeper—a winter infrared shot that doesn’t look like an infrared shot except for the surrealistic blue sky.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 with Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 lens zoomed to 20mm, f/4 at 1/60 sec and ISO 100 ©Jon Sienkiewicz

My Panasonic DMC-L1, despite its anemic 7.5-megapixel sensor, is a true treasure when teamed up with good glass. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a Four Thirds camera (not a Micro Four Thirds) and sold for around $2000 when introduced in 2006.

I was shooting the patterns in a window covered with bits of tape when I noticed my own reflection clearly. As I released the shutter however, the shot was photobombed by a female pedestrian. An accident, yes, but for me that makes the shot.

So now you see why it’s not a good idea to delete images from your camera, even if you’re pretty sure they’re crappy. Wait until you download and take a more careful look. You might find a few strokes of luck, too.

—Jon Sienkiewicz

Ladybuddy's picture

With regard to your comments about the Powershot A710, do you think it was the camera you bought that had the problem? I was thinking of getting my A710 converted but now I have second thoughts.


Jon Sienkiewicz's picture

Sorry for the delay in my reply. I bought the A710 secondhand. It was converted to IR-only by an unknown actor in a former Iron Curtain country. I strongly suspect that the fault lies in the conversion, not the camera and I wish I had made that clear in the story from the beginning. The Canon A710 is a solid, reliable product.