I have always found it interesting that the images that I have either sold or are the most liked by others are images that I just happened to catch out of the corner of my eye or maybe saw on my way back home from shooting the "important stuff" with one last film holder left in the bag. Or I have a few frames left on another camera and see something sort of interesting and after getting home it is the best image on the roll.
for example, I can head out early with a couple of scouted subjects in mind. The light is right, I have the right film, lens etc. Another day I can be just traveling in the car with my gear and see something on a road I had traveled 100 times and something in the distance or just the curiosity of a gravel turn off interests me and then I find something that produces a great image. the latter images always seem the better.
I know that chance favors the prepared mind, so maybe I just try to hard for some images. I am curious as to how others find their best work, planning ahead or finding things by chance?
My best work comes from planning. I've been at some locations after visiting it many times, studying the light and the sky (and sometimes consult an ephemeris and topo map to know just where the sun will some up) and then I'm in the right spot at the right time. And them some fellow walks up, surveys the scene and what I'm doing and says something like, "you sure are lucky to catch it on a day like this!" I never respond to a statement like that, but you can guess what's going through my mind.
Thing is, I do get the occasional lucky shot using, as Jim mentions, a wary eye for anything interesting. While I like these sorts of shots a lot (much payback for little effort) they are rarely my best work. After four years of serious shooting I have only one shot that came out better on the first vsit than on any subsequent visit (you can see it here: http://chem.dynu.com/photo/images/1026.jpg ).
I seem to have terrible luck with planning. Anytime I plan a shoot I end up totally frustrated. I find if I don't plan, just grab my gear and go out, I usually have a great day of exploration and discovery.
I think dumb luck is my best ally.
I have many locations stored up in my head, some with time of day required/ lighting desired sidenotes, but I never manage to follow up on them! At the moment with a new house just built (the garden isn't finished!) and two young kids, I can't see this changing for awhile! So, I take what opportunities I can get to go and wander down the nearby beach and surrounds, usually in the middle of the day.. ohh well maybe I can chase Bees around the garden this weekend http://apug.org/forum/html/emoticons/smile.gif
I'm very much one for scouting a location and returning many times for just the right light. Of course, often I develop the negs and it's NOT what I expected.
Also, sometimes I go somewhere to shoot and nothing looks worth a sheet of film. But a take a shot anyway saying "I lugged this 8x10 (or 4x5) all the way out here. I HAVE to shoot something!" Wouldn't you know it, sometimes these are my best shots. Funny ...
Done it both ways. The endless driving around and finding either great subject matter and so so lighting, or great light striking absolutely nothing of photographic interest to myself. Last big trip was a bit of both. Not much in driving around for two or three days. Then an amazing afternoon in a spur of the moment trip to a city park. Then on to a self assigned location shoot doing the same subject for two days. That was a lot more successful.
I guess it goes back to what you want to do. If you want to make a photographic statement, you better plan on what you want to say and then make it happen. If the goal is just to go out and have a good time with some photo buddies, then no planning is necessary beyond finding a place to stay and keeping the beer cold.
Photography can be many things. We don't have to approach it the same (deadly serious) way every time.
"planning or serendipity?"
Answer = YES