One of my hobbies is photography. I haven’t yet found out who coined the term “the perfect moment.” Experienced photographers know when they’ve hit the shutter button at the perfect moment. It’s a sort of “knowing” that you feel deep inside the core of your self. The “perfect moment” is the instant you know every element is in place – shutter speed, aperture setting, lighting, composition, focus, and the subject – especially if the subject is in motion like Grumpy Rooster.
You hit the shutter button at the right time and there’s your next prizewinner. Miss that moment or worse yet leave your camera at home and it’s a real bummer. But is that moment really “perfect?” I can look at my top twelve images and pick apart every single one of them. I could lose confidence about my photography. Is there room for improvement in my photography? Absolutely. Are there better photographers than I? Oh yes. So for the sake of my sanity, I’ll define “perfect moment” as my personal best – far beyond my average.
Karate has its own “perfect moments.” It’s when you feel all the elements are there – timing, position, breathing, stance, target, kime… and you’ve nailed the technique or at least you’ve come as close to perfect as you can given your current level of training. It feels awesome especially if it’s something you’re doing with a training partner. For me in karate, “perfect moments” are exceedingly rare. I’m a beginner so that’s to be expected. I know all you black belts reading this are chuckling right now – remember, I’m defining “perfect moment” as “far beyond my average,” not, “grand-master standard.” In photography, I get “perfect moments” fairly frequently. What’s the difference? A little over two decades of experience versus four months of training. Frequent practice vs. writing blogs when I should be practicing (Please excuse me while I do ten pushups for that admission! Ichi… ni… san…)
Do “perfect moments” come easily to me as a photographer now that I’ve developed the technical knowledge and the instincts to capture them? Not always. Sometimes I do just happen to be at the right place at the right time and I nail it. More often than not I get cricks in my neck and back while taking about 20 or 30 frames of the same stupid daisy.
Passers-by have probably wondered about the strange lady contorting herself and muttering to her camera for fifteen minutes at a time. I have a confession: the vast majority of frames I take suck. That’s why I often spend time contorting myself to get a different perspective, constantly adjusting the camera settings and the composition of the picture for each frame. I take lots of frames. One of those frames might be worth the effort. Sucking at photography used to be expensive back in the days of film.
Imagine if you had to pay money every time you made a mistake in the dojo. That’s what had to be done with photography in the “old days” of film – you had to buy rolls of film, pay to have them developed, pay for prints, and maybe if you were lucky you might have one truly amazing photo in a roll. Digital photography has freed me to make more mistakes – therefore I am better able to work on technical stuff, to experiment with composition, and to make sure I get the most out of each subject. Now that I don’t have to deal with film I have loads more “perfect moments” because I have far fewer constraints on the art of taking pictures. Guess what – sucking has always been free in karate. Yes, you do have to pay for your class time, but even if you’re amazing, you still go to class, right? Right? The correct answer, by the way, is a resounding “Yes!” As long as you have the time to do so, you are free to make loads of mistakes, to work on technical stuff, to experiment, and to make sure you understand and explore every movement. There’s really no shortcut – it takes work, time and patience to get “perfect moments.”
I can hear the protests, “If you suck at taking pictures, there’s PhotoShop and GIMP!” I am proficient in GIMP, and I can tell you that there’s really no way to make a purse out of a sow’s ear. It’s much easier to tweak an image that is mostly good. It’s even better when I don’t have to edit at all. There is no substitute for a decent photo. Karate doesn’t have PhotoShop. Nobody’s going to wave a magic wand and make your belt turn the next color. You can’t get by with sloppy kihon, half-hearted kata, or lousy kumite. There’s no substitute for hard work and practice, for good technique, for the heart of a warrior (Buzz word! Ten more pushups for me!), and for years and years of time to develop your skills. I’m told I must get used to sucking in karate and yes, even feel good about sucking. I believe it because of my experience with photography. Still, I love those “perfect moments” and I hope to have more of them as time goes by.