We all have expectations, but sometimes the greatest thing is to be surprised with what happens and to find out that it is quite different from the way you imagined it.

 –Alex Zanardi

I grew up in a generation where having expectations was a good and normal thing, a motivator, a bar to reach for. It still is. This word – expectations – has been rolling around in my brain for a while now. So, I looked it up for some context. Generally, it is described as a strong belief or hope that something will happen, be that the case in the future or that you will get or achieve something that you want.

The word is also linked with the potential that disappointment could be right around the corner. Hence, the many quotes I found that expressed the idea – “NO EXPECTATIONS – NO DISAPPOINTMENT.” I prefer to embrace a different, more positive view. I’ve learned that I’m much more likely to “succeed,” make progress and reach goals if I place some expectations on myself. The danger zone for me is when expectations sit on the edge of “perfect.”

I’m pretty certain that Italian car driver, Alex Zanardi, expected to be racing beyond 2001, when he lost his legs in an IndyCar race in Germany. He probably wasn’t “expecting” to become a four-time, gold-medal winning Paralympic hand cyclist either. If you’re interested in that story, here’s a link to follow. I know that I wasn’t expecting to do anything more than take pictures and learn how to be a better photographer when I bought my first camera in between two breast cancer diagnoses. Nowhere on my radar did I see photographer, educator, writer, mentor and presenter/speaker – not even close.

The iron fence was missing the pink petals this year.

These white bridges were now painted red.


So, how do we relate expectations to photography? Very easily. Where do we start? How about thinking or expecting to be able to make great pictures with great (aka expensive) gear by simply pushing the right button? Having a “real” camera doesn’t guarantee that the images you make will be great. It just doesn’t work that way no matter now much or how little your gear costs. You’ve got to learn how to “drive.” You need to pay attention, look where you’re going and learn how to navigate any obstacles along the way. You’ve got to do the work to go from a “point & shooter” to a more thoughtful, intentional photographer whose work resonates and stands out above the barrage of visual rapids in this world.

Finally, my blue door in shade and empty of pedestrians.

So, if you “expect” to become a person who makes photos that speak clearly, evoke emotional responses and reflect your vision, you’ve got to set some bars and goals to work toward. No one that I know has ever graduated from high school or college without doing the work and meeting the expectations required of them. To get to whatever our own next level is, we need to do the same. Set a goal and do the work. When I first started in photography, my goal was simply to be “better.” It was my job to set the parameters and expectations for myself. What did or does “better” mean to me? What does it mean to you? The more specific the goal, the easier it is to determine the steps to reach it. Your expectations for yourself and your goals are personal to you, regardless of the level of expertise.

(In case you didn’t pick up on this already, the cover image of azaleas and live oaks from Magnolia Plantation is the scene many of us were “expecting” and hoping for this month. The scene came weeks earlier than usual.)

Beauty in infrared and the oaks (720nm)

Live oak at Magnolia in infrared (665nm)


How about those expectations we have for all our travels and efforts, for example, to capture a specific iconic image or even a magnificent sunrise? We’ve had it all planned out, driven or flown miles and miles to get to “that exact spot, expecting to be met with perfect conditions. When we get up at “O-Dark 30” and drive in the dark hoping and expecting to be able to photograph the glory of the morning we’ve seen in other images, we want (no, often expect) it all to come together for us, too. We want what we want. Who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t? We want the sun, the color, the clouds and the magic; we make all the efforts, and it doesn’t happen. Now what? Go ahead, leave, go on home … what a waste, right? Nope!

We adjust our attitude and perspective and adapt to what we DO have. It’s the only way, really. And, quite often, we can be surprised by what happens. As to weather and other conditions, I always tell my workshop clients that, “I put in the request. . . Sometimes, the answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ and other times it’s ‘not today’.” Go with it. Our expectations (especially the unmet ones) can thrust us in whatever direction our attitude moves us in. We’re not in charge of all the things we’d love to be in charge of. Make the lemonade. It’s much better.

Without bright overcast light, I embraced the shadows.

Every set of shadows offered something different.


Again with the weather. Whether we like it or not, we will always have it. (It’s just one of the many things we cannot control.) It’s officially spring, according to the calendar. While in Charleston earlier this month, the temperatures ranged from 32 to 83 degrees. While scouting and during the workshop, we had cloudless, blue sky days. We had rain and cold. I even wore four layers, including my winter coat, hat and gloves. I had hoped for bright overcast light for my historic district wanderings, but got bright, leaning toward harsh light. I wanted, was hoping for and “expected” to have a flourish of color and azalea blooms amid the oak alley at Magnolia Plantations. I knew coming in that this was a “fat chance” situation this year. According to the calendar and past experience, my dates were supposed to be good for all that and more. The answer to my requests for color, bright overcast and some clouds were met mostly with “not today.” Oh, pooh.