I don’t think there’s a photographer pursuing their hobby or their job who hasn’t had the phrase Right place, right time lobbed at them in the comments section of their blog, photo sharing site or publication. Like a bag of shit thrown into the crowd at a rock concert, the outcome of using the phrase is not intended to be pretty. It is an insult, masquerading as faint praise and those who use it deploy it in a very calculated manner that is designed solely to bring you, the photographer, down a peg or two.
Right place, right time. It suggests that the photo in question is the result of luck. You were lucky to be there at that time and in that location. The only reason you got this particular shot is because the stars aligned in a magical mystical way and, dumb fuck that you are, you managed to push your fat finger down on that big old shutter release button and the clever camera did all the hard work. Right place, right time is never said with a smile, it is said (at best) with a smirk and (at worst) with a jeer.
So let’s break it down, shall we? Right place. Ermmm, no – it’s precisely the place I decided to stand. Nobody told me to stand here and take a photograph, nobody forced me, I was not lead here by the divine preachings of Saint Gerald of Zucchini, the force is not strong in my family, I didn’t foresee it in a dream. No, I made a conscious decision to stand in exactly that spot.
But why that location? Well funnily enough, over the years we photographers learn a few things. Amongst the things we learn is good places to stand prior to taking a photograph. We study maps and guide books, we pore over Wikipedia, we get inspired by films and TV shows. We make a point of studying our surroundings and we make a point of scrutinising landscapes. We look at places and think to ourselves – you know what, I’m going to stand there and I’m going to take a photograph.
Many of the places that we photographers choose to stand, immediately prior to taking a photograph, are difficult to get to. Sometimes we’ll walk for an entire day just to get to one spot. We get on aeroplanes and fly to the other side of the planet to stand in a particular spot, just prior to taking a photograph. We walk, run, swim, wade through rivers, get thigh deep in snow-drifts, climb rock faces, dive to the bottom of the ocean. We evade angry wildlife, dodge idiots in vehicles, risk illness, dismemberment and death. All so we can stand in a very particular spot.
Right time. It’s almost like the camera takes photos itself, with no input required from a chubby-fingered human and it is, they suggest, pure luck that you happened to be there at that precise moment. Ermmm, no – it’s precisely the time I decided to be there. I was not handed a schedule listing, down to the minute, when I should be in a particular location. I did not get a text advising me of my movements from a central photographers operating agency.
But why that time? Well funnily enough, over the years I’ve learnt when it’s likely that certain things will happen. Some events, such as the sun rising and then setting again, have been going on for a while and it’s usually only laziness that stops anyone from photographing such daily events. But we photographers set our alarms early and we get in our cars and drive or we walk or we fly and we do it all in the expectation of being in a particular place at a very particular time.
We learn the movements of the stars. We come to understand the shifts and ebbs and flows of the oceans. We learn about glaciers, volcanoes, avalanches, tornados and eclipses. We have to know about these things because that is how you successfully photograph them. There is no easy way of doing this – you have to devote research time to it. You don’t get it right first time either – it takes a shit-load of practice.
So the next time someone looks at a photograph you took and smiles that thin smile and says, “right place, right time, eh?” feel free to hammer them in the genitals with an axe handle. As they sit groaning on the floor, clutching their private parts, smile thinly at them and say, “right place, right time, eh!”