How many photos have you shot this year? This decade? How many have you shared online through avenues like social media? These are rhetorical questions, of course, but where I'm going with it is that every photographer wants to capture that one magical image. The life changing, and sometimes career changing, image that puts them on the map. You've seen them. The images that go viral and receive accolades worldwide like a hot YouTube video that lands a singer a record deal. A photograph of a special moment that captures the hearts of many and gets at the very least its fifteen minutes of fame. No matter how many photos, and some may have even been better technically, the photographer took in that year or decade or lifetime, the one that caught the attention and went viral was the "winner." In many cases, it's a spontaneous capture with innocent intentions. But because the image pulls at people's heartstrings, it goes viral.
That's exactly what happened to Hannah Stonehouse Hudson after she captured this image of John Unger and his dog, Schoep. It was a peaceful, heartwarming moment between dog and owner, who was lulling his arthritic 19 year old dog into relaxation in Lake Superior. The story behind the image is that Unger was unable to afford medical treatment for Schoep and was contemplating having to put him down. Schoep was most comfortable and restful in the buoyancy of the lake, so Unger took him there for rest.
Since this image went viral, Unger and Schoep have become world famous, and so has the photographer behind the lens. Their Facebook Fan Page has over 84,000 followers and the nonprofit they've started with the influx of donations received when the story released has exceeded $25,000 USD. The foundation will benefit other owners who can't afford their pets vet bills.
While Unger and Schoep are well on their way (Schoep is receiving medical attention and is almost like a puppy again), photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is also thriving. It's reported that her business is up 30% in the short time since the image went viral. She's a lifestyle and portrait photographer who does the best she can to incorporate people's pets into her images, so it's no wonder she captured this one.
A favor for a friend that was posted on Facebook changed her life, his life, the dog's life and her business as a photographer.
Remember this image? The couple kissing in the middle of the riots in Vancouver, Canada? The Canucks may have lost the Stanley Cup, but freelance photographer Rich Lam won instant and worldwide recognition for this image. While I have no idea how many images Lam has captured in his career, my guess is that this is the only one that went viral and gained notoriety to the degree it has. It's the one people remember.
Lam is a freelance photographer based out of Vancouver, BC. Was he in the right place at the right time? Absolutely. Did he capture a memorable image? Absolutely. Are those the two key components to getting an image to go viral? Absolutely. However, these two components are rarely anything you can predict. Photographers don't wake up in the morning and say, "Today I'm going to be in the right place at the right time and capture a memorable image that will reach millions of people." Well, they can say it, but how often does it happen?
So, how does a photographer raise the odds of reaching great recognition for one image? The answer is simple and not so simple.
First, take pictures. These photographers were in the right place at the right time because they were out there taking pictures.
Second, emotion wins every time. These two photographers captured heartwarming, memorable images because that's the eye of a seasoned photographer at work. It's easier to get up every day and get out there and shoot than it is to learn how to capture emotion, a quality both of these images have. Dedication to the craft of photography in regards to getting out there and taking pictures is one thing, but learning it as a true art is another. Two photographers can go out and take pictures all day long, but the one with the trained eye is more likely to get that memorable image. It's instinct. It's intuitiveness. And, it's connecting with your subject whether they know you're capturing them or not.
While there's no hidden formula, being consistent and improving your craft are two steps in the right direction toward having an image that stands out. Take it to the next level of being spontaneous and capturing a sentiment that will strike a chord with people worldwide, then you're on your way. The being in the right place at the right time is a bit of instinct and a lot of luck. Being alert and in tune to your surrounds helps when you're in the right place to make it the right time.
Now get out there and shoot!
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