Karmic Equation: Luck = Preparation + Opportunity


Eagle versus Cobra – Vikram Ramesh

Bangalore, India

I’m not a big believer in luck: good, bad, or otherwise. I fall into the philosophical camp of Critical Rationalism (with a heavy overlay of Empiricism). Confused by those terms? Then I would invite you to research them online, or pickup a dictionary. I’m not trying to be snooty here, just nudging you to further your education. Those that know the terms will easily follow my logic. This article is about the myth of luck, and more specifically how it relates to photography.

Myth: A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.

What offends my Rationalism is the notion that we are at the beck & call of predetermined fate, completely devoid of any personal responsibility whatsoever. I don’t for one minute buy that logic (or lack thereof). Predeterminism (the idea that all events are determined in advance) strikes me as bunk. More importantly it’s a copout, it absolves us of personal responsibility. Luck falls into that category. I think we make our own luck for the most part.

We can discuss the whole “Bad things happen to good people” argument later. I’m limiting this article to photography and so-called luck. Photographers are really tired of hearing comments like “You must have a really good camera.” It’s a passive-aggressive way of saying “You’re not capable of taking that photograph yourself.” Likewise, when I hear the comment “What a lucky shot” my hackles immediately go up, and I begin to snarl. My fellow photographers would agree with this I think.

I came across this photograph, of an Eagle and Cobra doing battle, in an online news article this morning. Vikram Ramesh an amateur photographer from Bangalore, India took this shot. The majority of non-photographers (and even some photographers) will say “What a lucky shot.” This is why it’s not a lucky shot, but a great capture. Remember this equation: Luck = Preparation + Opportunity. The photographer Vikram Ramesh was prepared.

  1. He had adequate photo gear. He was obviously out to photograph wildlife. I can tell from the photo he was shooting with a long lens (probably 300mm or greater). I know this because of the image bokeh, the smooth out of focus background. It appears he was close to the action, and he clipped the Eagle’s wingtips  (I can’t image he cropped them on purpose).
  2. His camera settings were preset, he wouldn’t have had time to set them once the action began. My guess is he was shooting in shutter priority (probably at 1/1000s or faster) to stop both Eagle and Cobra action (no discernible motion blur), and wide open at f/5.6 or f/6.3 (standard apertures for affordable telephoto lenses). ISO was probably set to automatic. I can almost guarantee he was shooting continuous at 3 to 10 fps (and this was his best shot of the group).
  3. He knew what he was doing. He was shooting handheld without a tripod (he couldn’t have anticipated this shot), and his focus is spot on (hard to do with a fast-moving subject). The Eagle’s eyes are tack-sharp as we say in the photography world.
  4. Bottom-line: he was out of his house and in nature, he had his camera with him, he knew he was going to shoot wildlife and had his settings dialled in, he had a skill-set, and he was quick on the trigger. When the opportunity presented itself he was totally prepared. The opportunity itself was fortuitous I’ll grant you, but the shot was not luck (there was no predetermined outcome). Preparation met opportunity and that was his luck. Well done Vikram.

We can learn some things from Vikram. If you’re a photographer get out of the house and photograph something (lots of things is even better). Always have a camera with you. Try to anticipate your environment, subjects, and camera settings (sometimes you only have a split second to pull the trigger). Practice improves competence. You’ll find that getting out of your house (on a regular basis), with your camera, will vastly improve your encounters with opportunity (and your so-called luck will change for the better).


Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller


Arequipa, Peru

One response to “Karmic Equation: Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

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