“Chance Favors The Prepared Mind”

My good friend and colleague Brad Bartlett quoted Ansel Adams saying “chance favors the prepared mind” as we were working together last week.

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I live by that philosophy but had never heard the quote so the words have been echoing in my head for a few days. I did a little research and found that Ansel borrowed the phrase from Louis Pasteur who originally said Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés which translates to “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind”. I love that!

Some people love to be spontaneous and live in the moment. That’s not me, I tend to live for the future. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate those great unexpected moments. Most of us like good surprises. I just tend to land of the side of the spectrum of planners. I believe I do best when I’m working with that tension between what I’m comfortable with and what is new and unexpected.

Planning or “preparing” makes sense and is practical. As photographers we balance both sides of the spectrum of spontaneous and control. We continue to learn and train ourselves about the technical parts of our craft. Our photographic toolbox of skills should alway be growing. What positions us to take full advantage of chance when it favors us are those tools.

Great images are made when all kinds of elements come together. Depending on the image it could be weather, nature’s light, an expression on your subject’s face, any number of things. Many of us work very hard to plan and prepare as many of the elements of our shoot ahead of time as possible. Without that element of spontaneity all that control can result in a very cold and contrived image. We depend on chance to put the finishing touches on things and lead us in directions we could never have planned for.

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