Timing is an essential skill
We all have some sense of timing. Does that mean we always get it right in photography? I think not. Timing is a skill we can learn though. In doing so we can improve our photography. As long as we know where it fits into the scheme of things.
Timing? What timing?
Most shots demand an eye for the moment. I can remember sitting for several hours in a rainy valley one day. I was drenched. I was cold. I was determined. This was going to be a great landscape shot. I just had to get the right light. Well, the moment never came. Several years later I arrived in the same valley about forty minutes from sundown. I sat for about ten minutes waiting for the right light. I saw it; took my shot. Happiness!
When the right light or the right event occurs, if you are there, timing is down to the micro-timing of the shot.
And that is the point. There are many levels of timing. The choice to be there or not is one level. Waiting for the special event, or the right light, or the right circumstances is another choice. Then there is the choice of whether to press the button NOW, or a microsecond later. Which of these choices makes the shot in the end?
Great photographers have discussed timing
There is probably a consensus that the event and the timing should come together with an aesthetically pleasing outcome. Without the aesthetics being right the shot is pointless.
An aesthetically pleasing outcome is desirable. However, our individual understanding of what is pleasing differs. As a result you and I might press the button at different times to get a result that is pleasing to us. Timing therefore becomes a matter of what looks the best, to the author.
So is there a right time to capture the scene? The answer is probably no. You have to judge what you consider looks the best within an event. Then press the shutter button for that. When we judge an event like that we are actually making an aesthetic rather than timing judgement.
The confusion between aesthetics and a cool shot
My shot above, from a local country show, highlights a confusion. It is something many beginners make a mistake about. Let’s face it. Some shots are just cool to take. Shots like this are fun to do, show a sense of timing and are great to show your friends. It shows a certain skill at the timing and process of photography. The pleasure comes from the capture of the shot itself.
Is this a particularly aesthetically pleasing picture? Not really. It’s an action shot with some interest. It will never win a competition. It does not have beautiful lines, wonderful composition or a stunning colour pallet. I would not put it on my wall. But I had great fun doing it!
One should not confuse a process success with an aesthetic success.
Of timing and beauty
A part of learning photography involves appreciating and capturing beauty. Another part is to make captures that might be difficult or which involve technical success, maybe good timing. A great lesson is learned when both come together. Henri Cartier-Bresson called this “the decisive moment”.
When we see both an event of note and an aesthetic experience that is what we should be aiming to capture. What ever we call that moment we should be looking for it.