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I’m a big Formula One fan, and also enjoy watching other forms of exotic motor racing, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I find the combination of man and machine,  the most advanced technology, and history and evolution of the cars completely fascinating.  I watched a great documentary last night called “Truth in 24“, which explores Team Audi’s recent history of domination at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as its missteps, as the team prepares for the 2008 race.

The drama, cinematography, sound, and overall authentic presentation of this historic race is the best I’ve seen in any racing movie, and it’s worth watching for that experience alone, whether you are a racing fan or not.

What struck me the most about the story is that no matter the limitless budgets, space-age technology, and amount of machinery involved, it all comes down to the human element, the determination and perseverance to return year after year regardless of defeat, or the odds against victory. My favorite part of the whole movie is when Allan McNish, who has participated in the race 12 straight years without a victory says:

“I personally do not believe in luck. I think luck is an excuse for people who are failed in their mission to do something. If you do your preparation correct, if you do the work…if you make the correct judgments on the risks you take…then you win the race. And that’s not luck, that’s hard work.”

And that is the formula: luck = hard work + preparation.

What does this have to do with outdoor photography? Everything. So often I hear others claim how getting lucky can happen to anyone, as if to insinuate a photograph has any less value, or the photographer didn’t really earn it. As Twyla Tharp says in her great book “The Creative Habit“:

“Some people resent the idea of luck. Accepting the role of chance in our lives suggests that our creations and triumphs are not entirely our own, and that in some way we’re undeserving of our success. I say, get over it. This is how the world works. in creative endeavors, luck is a skill.”

When asked if he uses any filters, amazing landscape photographer Peter Lik says “sure, I use the 4AM filter. When my alarm clock rings at 4 am, I know I’m ready for luck”. Could not agree more!

Personally, I can’t even remember how often I have been un-lucky. Flat light, unexpected thunderstorms, uncooperative clouds, wrong timing, incorrect exposure for a “magic moment”, wrong lens, faulty battery, even the frustration I’ve felt as the most beautiful scene appears before me and I realize my memory card is full and I left the spare connected to my computer back home.

Yet many of these I could have prevented by being better prepared, and working harder at making sure I am in the best possible time and place for “luck” to happen, something I practice constantly each day, month, and year. I can’t afford, economically or otherwise, to wait for luck – I have to make my own.

The bottom line is whether you’re a race care driver, a landscape photographer, or anyone who just wants to excel at what they do, forget about getting lucky, just work hard, and make sure you’re prepared.

Esopus Meadows Light
Esopus Meadows Light

You can download “Truth in 24” in HD quality for free from iTunes .

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Robert,
    Thanks for the link to this special on F1 racing. I also find this sport fascinating because of the time, energy, determination, and money it takes to try and come in first place. You are correct when you speak of hard work = success. My wife and I were just talking about this in relation to photography and becoming successful in this business. One ingredient that I believe is crucial to being successful is having a passion for what you do. If you have that passion, follow it and work hard because it will = success!
    Thanks for the great article and the link to the show!

  2. Great article!

    I couldn’t agree more. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that luck comes into play, but when you are dealing with nature and the elements, there’s always going to be an element of luck. Strolling out there at noon and hoping a sunrise doesn’t leave you very open to opportunity.

    Preparation and hard work will put you in a much better situation to get lucky! 🙂

    Thanks for the great article Robert!


    1. Thanks for the feedback Martin – you are totally right about the “uncomfortable” part for certain photographers, yet even Ansel admitted Moonrise Over Hernandez was a stroke of luck. He just happened to know exactly how to capture the moment because of practice and mastery of his craft.


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