Becoming a Photographer – Happy Accidents

Less of the business, more of the creative today as I’ve been thinking about the process of taking a picture.

Whether you’re an amateur photographer or an experienced professional, the process of making a picture usually begins with your intention to create a specific image.  That intention can be triggered by a concept that involves spending time planning each and every element of the final picture or it can be triggered by the aesthetic – you see something beautiful or interesting or moving and you want to make a record of it.

What ever the trigger, you usually have some idea of what you want the end result to look like, whether that’s a scene in front of you or a scene that is set up following a process of planning.  I guess one of the differences between a professional and amateur photographer is that the professional will usually have developed skills and an understanding of the photographic process that will enable them to consistently produce more accurate results or results that more closely reflect their intention.

The rise of digital photography has increased the accuracy of both the amateur and professional photographer. It’s easier than ever to use automated camera functions to get a picture that’s generally in focus and pretty well exposed.  Gone are the days of waiting to get your film back to see what pictures you’ve taken, the results are all there in front of you on the back of your camera screen and anything that doesn’t quite fit can be deleted and replaced.

I believe it was David Bailey who, when asked to justify his use of film as oppose to digital photography, explained that digital photography leads to perfect pictures and perfection is boring.  This ability to constantly re-shoot an image until it’s perfect can mean that some images which might have an inherent value other than the technical never see the light of day.


I know when I’m editing my images I can be overly critical and images that are a bit more out of focus than I would like or not quite composed correctly get the chop without a second thought but I have been thinking more recently about being more open to these images and looking at them to see if they have a different value.

An example is this image that I took at Kat and Frank’s Hampstead Heath engagement photoshoot.

This image was the result of me using my camera on aperture priority and the camera getting confused about my intended subject. I shoot in aperture priority a lot and I only really change to manual if I’m shooting more slowly (i.e portraits), where I need a faster shutter speed or in tricky lighting conditions.

The camera thought that my intended subject was the sun, so that’s what it tried to focus on and that’s what it exposed for. Because of this, my intended subjects, Kat and Frank aren’t in focus at all and they’re very underexposed.

In spite of this I actually really like the image. It’s interesting and, for me, there is something beautiful about it even though the image that I created was not the image I had in my head when I pressed the shutter.

This is, in my mind, much more in keeping with the days of film photography where how ever skilful and accurate you are, you would get the odd unexplained moment of serendipity and results that you couldn’t have predicted if you tried.

Here’s another recent example.

Again, I was out and about shooting on aperture priority and I saw a man framed by the entrance to an underpass.  I didn’t have time to adjust my settings, as the man was walking away from me, so I pointed, clicked the shutter and hoped for the best.

The outcome isn’t even instantly recognisable as a photograph. The slow shutter speed has led to camera shake and nothing in the image is in focus, however I think there’s a tension within the image that creates interest.

I went through a phase of ‘shooting from the hip’ a while back. This basically involves reacting quickly, without thinking about the outcome. Point and shoot and repeat.

I especially liked to do this on the street, with my camera hanging at waist level (quite literally shooting from the hip!). This effectively means that every picture is a happy accident as I had no input into the process other than to decide when to press the shutter.

Putting your faith in happy accidents is all about letting go of the process. By letting go of your preconceived ideas about what it is to create a photograph, you are giving yourself a chance to create something that challenges your perceptions of your own work.  It’s also fun to let go of the process and shoot for fun once in a while.

Do you embrace your happy accidents or do you delete them? I’d love to see some examples so leave a link in the comments below.

To see more of my work, including the non-accidental, visit

2 thoughts on “Becoming a Photographer – Happy Accidents

  1. I like the second frame very much. It is an abstract image yet so concrete at the same time because I can immediately recognize the structure in the foreground and the human figure behind it( however distorted ). It’s a keeper.

  2. What a great email. I always overlook photos that are a bit blurry but have started paying more attention to some which still capture a beautiful expression. Surely those are more desired then a technically ‘perfect’ shot which has less character?

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