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Photo Tips by Mike Rosen

MARCH 2012


Hi <<First Name>>,

Serendipity is defined as "the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way."

Sometimes in my "early" years as a photographer, when I saw a particularly awesome picture of, say, a sunrise over a mountain lake, or wildlife at feeding time, or maybe just children merrily at play, oblivious to everything around them, I instinctively thought, "Boy, that guy was sure lucky to come across that scene just at the right time. And he must have a much better camera than me!"

As I became more experienced, however, I began to realize that while serendipity is always a welcome factor, it's much more often hard work, patience, fully understanding how to control your camera and lens (regardless of cost or complexity), defining your vision for each photograph and knowing how to "see" artistically that make a picture great.

In short, the best photographers create their own opportunities for serendipitous images by being there, seeing the less obvious, experimenting with light and angle, moving their feet and cameras around and taking lots of pictures. In photography, as in any field of endeavor, there's no free lunch, but it sure is fun to figure out how to get "lucky."

Here are a few of my images that certainly benefitted from a dose of serendipity but I believe also reflect a few elements that make them more than just lucky shots. 

This is a sunrise image of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I had been there the previous afternoon, when the sun was high and the light harsh and dead. So I made arrangements to return at sunrise. I set up my camera on a tripod, carefully framed the image--I loved the symmetry of the two palms--and started shooting away as the "magic hour" progressed. Suddenly the boy ran into the scene to pick a flower. Serendipity? Of course. But had I not scouted out the site, recognized the opportunity, risen early to get set up before sunrise, taken many shots to determine the best exposure and had the patience to not leave after the first two or three, I never would have captured this image. It's always been one of my favorites.


Sort of the same story. Wandering around the many ruins at Angkor, I came across these wonderful bas relief carvings surrounding the doorway of an empty temple. I had already made several exposures when the monk unexpectedly walked in. Needless to say, I was very pleased at this serendipitous event. But had I not been there with my camera on, focused, the exposure set and the image visualized and framed, the few seconds that I had to make it would have been gone. For me, the people in both Cambodia photos turned very nice, but not unique images, into exceptional ones. (My opinion only--let me know if you agree or not.)

I had made many ordinary wildlife pictures one morning at Pelican Bay in Naples, Florida. Then we came across this great white egret which had speared a fish, and I started shooting away. Unfortunately the fish got stuck in the bird's beak. After the bird tried mightily to free and eat the fish....

....THE FISH ESCAPED! As you can see, the egret was not a happy bird. But while there was admittedly some serendipity at work here,  I again would have lost the split second chance to make the image if I hadn't been fully ready for it.  As they say in the sports world, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings!" 

My final fish story took place just a few weeks ago at Shark Valley in the Florida Everglades.

I was busy shooting some unusually close-up images of two large alligators that had slithered out of the water onto the road, when this guy emerged with his lunch in his mouth. He took a while before the final crunch, so I was able to shoot from several angles. My favorite was this one because of his particularly fierce look. OK, I was lucky to see this, but at least I stuck around long enough to be there when it happened (it was hot and many others who had been taking snapshots missed this unusual opportunity).

So if you want to improve your pictures, go out there and shoot a lot of them with intent and purpose. In contrast to film days, storage is cheap and you can delete all the ones you don't like later. But in the process, maybe you'll be ready and able to capture a fortunate stroke of serendipity that comes your way. 

All the best,




Other Stuff


You can view and purchase any of my photographs at my website (click HERE). Better yet, just email me (click HERE), or feel free to phone me at 612-374-2766.



I'll be teaching my Photo Tips course once again this spring, this time in a slightly advanced version. It's part of the highly regarded OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program affiliated with the University of Minnesota. The course will run on seven Wednesday mornings, 10:00 - 11:30 from April 11 - May 23. Location: The Kenwood, near Franklin and Hennepin in Minneapolis. As of this date there are four slots left out of a 20 student maximum. To register go to the OLLI website (click HERE). Feel free to contact me with any questions.


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