Happy Accidents; C’mon Now, You Didn’t Think All Those Photos Were Planned, Did You?

It used to be an adage of the trade that you judged the work of a professional photographer by looking at his contact sheets. The thinking was, anyone can get lucky now and then, but real talent will be revealed by the contacts. Today I guess you'd say, "show me the memory card," but you could be looking at it after all the losers have been deleted.

Photos © 2005, Jack Hollingsworth, All Rights Reserved

You won't have to look at my memory cards or contact sheets, though. I'll tell you straight out: a lot of my photos fall into the category of the happy accident. And it's often the happy accident that pleases me most--not necessarily the shot I planned to get, or even the hero shot that the client chooses. My favorites are often the ones that just happen, and in 30 years of shooting, I've had a lot of those.

Of course I wish I knew why they happen, so maybe I could repeat them. But honestly, it's a mystery. Sometimes it's simply being in the right place at the right time--and noticing that I'm there. It's the moment I think, wow, look at that! Those moments have happened while I was just casually walking around, looking for pictures, and they've happened while I was on assignment, in the middle of a shoot. The key is not to lock those moments out. If something happens, something unexpected, or something is offered to me, I go with it. People will do unexpected things, or sometimes I'll make a mistake, but I'll go along with what's happening. Often it works out better than anything I planned or hoped for.

Blowin' In The Wind
The beach chair with the blowing shawl, for example. I was shooting an assignment with my Hasselblad Xpan, looking to capture the color of the chair and the shawl against an expanse of sky and sea (with lots of open space for advertising copy). A gust of wind kicked the shawl up as I took a shot. I was shooting at maybe 1/60 sec and caught what you see, completely by accident. The photograph has sold numerous times--I still see it all over the place. It wasn't the intended shot, but it was the right one.

I took the photo of my daughter, Emma, on our backyard swing, with my Mamiya RZ67, and, yes, it is slightly blurry, but not on purpose. I'd intended to use my tripod, but I had problems with it--the post was messed up and the clamp wouldn't work. So I ended up hand holding the camera, taking pictures at 1/30 sec. Then, to make matters worse--or better, depending on how you look at it--I decided on a whim to cross-process the film (it's slide film processed C-41, like a color negative). This photograph has sold again and again because, I think, it's real--it captures the motion and emotion of a great moment, completely by accident.