Are These the World's "Luckiest" Photos?


A lot goes into making the perfect photograph: a good eye, impeccable composition, and lighting skills, for starters. Yet, sometimes, you need a little bit of magic for the right image to unfold before your lens, a stroke of luck that aligns the various elements and then, your quick instinct to capture the moment. We’ve rounded up a few great examples from both classic and contemporary photography just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. These are all fantastic photographers to begin with, so take a look and decide: Are these shots lucky or are they just good?

Yes, as wrong as it feels to call anything Garry Winogrand has ever ever done “lucky” instead of simply “brilliant,” this shot of NY’s El Morocco club from 1955 is captivating. Shot just at the moment of this stranger’s stretched grin, the fingers stretching into claws from the movement… Muah!

This photo was taken by the urban explorers of Sleepy City, who offered a nifty guide to exploring Paris’s graffiti-ridden, dangerous underground metro tunnels without getting killed or arrested. This is a near escape from a passing train.

It’s not luck but persistence and lifestyle that allowed experimental image maker Jonas Mekas to shoot these stills of Elvis Presley kinging at his last New York concert in Madison Square Garden on June 9, 1972. The strange flare? What gorgeous luck!

Here’s a photo of a Russian communist activist being arrested by a mob of cops during an opposition march in Moscow. Now, it’s not just luck but a set of very specific, fearless skills that let Ilya Varlamov capture happenings like this, all the time. It’s luck that he didn’t get hurt.

Henri Cartier-Bresson coined “the decisive moment,” explaining: “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” So, if this iconic, perfectly-timed snap is “lucky,” according to Cartier-Bresson, photographers should all be going out vigilantly and making lots and lots of luck!

This photograph by Robert Capa is one of the luckiest shots in photography’s history, if we may be so morbid. May we be so morbid? Can you call something like this “a lucky shot”? Allegedly, it was taken on September 5, 1936 of an Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth soldier Federico Borrell García during the Spanish Civil War being shot down, but the authenticity of this photo has been disputed since the 1970s.

You don’t come across happenings like that everyday, huh? Unless you’re photographer Tod Seelie. Then you do.

Talk about a “decisive moment.” New York street photographer Helen Levitt captured this brief moment that probably lasted a split second, but this memory of human violence will last forever.

Now that’s a money shot! New York photographer Jay Fine spent a whole night shooting through the storm from Battery Park City, Manhattan. Finally, he got lucky.

Relatively recently, this Robert Doisneau 1950s classic with its perfect, perfect spontaneous moment of crowds flowing around a kissing couple was revealed to have been a bit staged. Hey, sometimes, luck just needs a little help.