When I show other photographers this image of the Icelandic geyser Strokkur erupting, their first question is usually, “Did you get that on your first try?”
I tell them that while Strokkur is incredibly regular as geysers go – it erupts about 10 times per hour – each individual eruption is incredibly irregular. Sometimes the eruption comes from the very center of the “bubble.” Sometimes it comes from the side. Most of the time, the bubble subsides and the geyser churns for a while before making a new one. You never know exactly what it will do.
This image came after a solid hour of effort. And after I got it, I tried for another hour to do better.
A wise photographer once said, “If you take only one picture that will be your best image of the day.” Maybe that was the best image you could have taken. Maybe not.
With rare exception, it’s impossible to take the same picture twice. Even if there’s no wind, the sun will be in a slightly different position. And even if your subject doesn’t move, you can. Sometimes, moving even a few inches can dramatically change your composition.
Just as a writer’s work is not finished with a first draft, often your work as a photographer isn’t finished with the first shot. Every now and then, my first image in a sequence really is the best. More often, my images get better as I try to improve upon my original.
You don’t need to snap hundreds of pictures every time you take your camera out of the bag, but after each shot you may want to ask yourself if there’s anything you can do better. Don’t waste all your time staring at your camera’s screen, but do review a few of the images while you’re on location to identify opportunities for improvement.
Also, try going back to places over and over. Visit them in different times of the day, in different weather, in different seasons. Many of my favorite images are the result of considerable effort over several trips.
It’s the quality of the finished image that matters, not whether you got it on the first try.