Semper Paratus

For pediatric residents little compares to the anxiety that comes with hearing a call to respond to a code blue for a child in extreme distress. I was no exception. In my hospital the code was announced in stark terms by an overhead page. On hearing that call, every resident on service immediately responded. The first physician to arrive at the patient’s side automatically assumed the role of code leader. That’s really where the anxiety came from. If you were first, every eye in the room looked to you for direction. With every glance you knew they were asking you, “how, exactly, are we going to help this child?” In general I had no idea the answer to that question.

The fear that grips you upon suddenly realizing this fact further cripples you. I knew this all too well. Early in my residency I decided that those first crucial moments in a code were vital for several reasons. First, in the early moments you must make it very clear to everyone in the room that you own the code. It’s yours and no one else’s. Additionally, many codes go poorly for the most avoidable reasons: an oxygen tube inadvertently attached to air instead of oxygen, horribly inefficient chest compressions that result from forgetting to stabilize the child with a backboard, inadequate or excessive medication dosing that occurs with lax documentation. Primarily though, you need time, time to collect your thoughts and take a deep, calming breath. Having figured this out I came up with a list of five or six things that I pledged I would do at the beginning of every code. They were simple things like definitively stating my role as code captain, tasking someone to fetch the aforementioned backboard and having the person most in the know tell me a few things about the child. They were certainly important for the child but mainly they gave everyone in the room a job to do for a few moments; it was just enough time to convince myself that I could actually do the thing that needed to be done.

I hardly ever stray into the territory of photography lessons. I’m a complete dilettante; I have no business telling anyone how to take pictures. I’m not going to start now. I will say this though; I think that preparation plays a huge part in most successful photography. The lessons I learned as a resident apply to a good many of life’s challenges and photography is no exception. In general I’ve moved toward setting out on a specific photographic task rather than just wandering aimlessly looking for purpose…and images. Setting out, for instance, to shoot a bird in flight means I’ll prepare differently than I would for yet another shot of my kids or those ubiquitous lampposts I seem to adore. I focus on the equipment I need and always setup the camera in advance with settings that will maximize the likelihood of capturing a good shot. I got this shot of a snowy egret by being prepared. I set my camera up for 5 fps, switched to a balance of settings that would largely freeze action yet give me some depth of field to play with and converted focus to continuous mode for better motion tracking. It was only then that I got out of the car and set out looking for the shot. Preparation in this case got me a shot I really like.

See, this wasn’t a lesson. It was just a common sense discussion on the importance of preparation in life–handy if you ever find yourself running a pediatric code blue or searching for a decent shot of a snowy egret in flight. Don’t worry, I won’t venture here again any time soon.

Update 10/27/12–I’m really pleased that this image was named a noteworthy image by

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  1. Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:42 am by Elaine- | Permalink

    AND you got a lamp post in there too! lol tho i did find your story scary, that people working in the emergency room don’t know what to do when i scream! nice picture, and good story on preparedness, tho i don’t seem to need to be prepared for my particular brand of UNsuccessful photography :) *sit ubu, sit*

  2. Posted March 24, 2012 at 7:37 am by Brenda | Permalink

    Thank goodness I won’t ever be running a code blue! But I still enjoyed the lesson – feel free to impart another at any given point. I’m still a “wander and shoot” sort of gal but then I don’t take photos of anything that moves. Love the juxtaposition of the bird and the lamppost and that gorgeous light that shines on both.

  3. Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:42 am by yz | Permalink


  4. Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm by george | Permalink

    OK, I miss the occasional shot, but it’s digital and there’s no cost. And as I’ve said during every workshop, photographers really do learn more from mistakes than successes.

    So I can only hold in awe a person who can’t afford the luxury of making mistakes. It may teach one not to repeat the error, but the results just don’t bear thinking about.

    Hats off for your caring professionalism – and a great image too!

  5. Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:48 am by yvanmarn | Permalink

    Wonderful & meaningful shot, congratulations!

  6. Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm by rian | Permalink

    we share the same stand regarding photography lessons, never took them and never had an interest in them.. everything’s all laid out in the manual & the internet.. with regards to going out to shoot, i lean towards doing it aimlessly.. lol.. 😉 but it seems preparation paid off for this shot of yours.. well done!

  7. Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm by Marcie | Permalink

    An absolutely stunning image!!

    And – I think we learn all of our life-lessons in just the way we need to learn them. What you learned as a resident…is invaluable as a photographer..and what you’ve learned as a photographer – I have no doubt – is invaluable to you as a doctor.

    Wonderful..inspiring post!

  8. Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm by Francis J | Permalink

    Stunning, wonderful, inspiring!

  9. Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm by fabrizio | Permalink

    the shot, seems to be very well built in its totality, there is the emotional part and the technical part.
    Personally, i think , after the logical bases is very interesting, confront, with different styles and tecniques, also with mistakes but always limiting post-production only to fins the right balance between light and colors or to give a particula air. However this photo is really particular and therefore, contains in itself a rare beauty, wonderful my friend

  10. Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:58 am by rolandtheys | Permalink

    Wow, excellent photo!

  11. Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:39 am by bluechameleon | Permalink

    This is an amazing shot Christopher. Love the tones and strength found here. Superb!

  12. Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:02 am by sherri | Permalink

    a different take and quite stunning, christopher. the planning ahead paid off. i see egrets from time to time, but they’re always sitting on the back of a cow; which i’d love to photograph, but unfortunately they’re too far out in a field off of some four lane highway:-)

  13. Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:54 am by joshi daniel | Permalink

    what an awesome framing :)

  14. Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:07 am by Corinna | Permalink

    This image is *so* YOU, Christopher, in its subject(s), its tones, its emotional weight. So beautifully done.

    And even though I am not qualified to judge anyone’s bonafides as a doctor, I have a feeling you’re an amazing one of those too. So much soul.

  15. Posted March 27, 2012 at 10:16 am by Stéfan | Permalink

    Wisdom is knowing other instances where “lessons” also apply. Well done.

  16. Posted March 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm by John Maslowski | Permalink

    Beautifully composed image, excellent work!

  17. Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:21 pm by Phil Vaughn | Permalink

    Thank you for relating your experience and thoughts as a code leader. Thinking through our photography is on a different plane, but I would suspect that a lot of us in photography can relate to NOT having been properly prepared at times. It’s a good reminder. I like your photo and those luminescent wings. I appreciate your work in helping our little ones who are having a difficult time in life.

  18. Posted March 28, 2012 at 4:26 am by Rue Du Lavoir | Permalink

    I love the composition and sharpness of your shot, Christopher.
    Yes, you have to prepare the conditions for shooting phototgraphique. But sometimes the magic works without understanding why. A magical moment. A nature that is revealed. Elements that we do not control. And photography makes sense. Preparation but also natural and simple …

  19. Posted March 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm by Kala | Permalink

    Fantastic composition, Christopher. I lack your patience, and end up of shooting a lot of non-moving objects.

  20. Posted March 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm by k@ | Permalink

    You can venture again on those fields, they are of human fabric and we all can relate to them, even if not in that emergency & responsability at each moment but i appreciate & understand so much the parallel you make with photography, being here & now… in focus. Your image & your words give us wings, sincerly.

  21. Posted March 30, 2012 at 4:14 am by Will | Permalink

    A beautiful shot, perhaps my favourite of yours, lovely finish to it with the border as well.

  22. Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:45 am by Klaus | Permalink

    Christopher …. excellent fine art b&w

  23. Posted April 1, 2012 at 7:16 am by Doug Hickok | Permalink

    Amazing post Chris… I can only say it takes an extraordinary person to do what you do… both serving to heal others, and making these brilliantly anticipated images. When going on assignment or out looking for stock images, I always plan ahead, making a detailed shot list. But I can not imagine what it is like holding another soul’s life in my hands.

  24. Posted April 1, 2012 at 10:20 am by CrashRyan | Permalink

    nice patience in waiting for this shot …!

  25. Posted April 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm by rolandtheys | Permalink

    Splendid shot!

  26. Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm by kevin dowie | Permalink

    As a Paramedic, I can relate to your code blue experience!
    Interesting photo, given the relationship between the two elements and the focusing, I can only think that (assuming it’s not a composite) you must have cropped the image substantially to arrive at the end result? In any event, it’s a nice image and point about being prepared is a good one.

    • Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm by admin | Permalink

      Hi Kevin–thanks so much for visiting and for your comment. There’s a bit of a crop here but not nearly as much as you’d think given it was taken with an x100. I was fortunate to be right at the base of this light post when this snowy egret took off from his perch atop it. He was only about 15 or so feet above me when the shot was taken. Thanks again! ~C

  27. Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:54 am by Barbro | Permalink

    Your planning ahead paid of , this is a truly beautiful shot of the snowy egret.

    I do appreciate you sharing your experience from the emergency room with us. Very touching as well as food for thought. Although pre planning may be applied to many of life’s situations, it may not always benefit the creative process.

    While taking pictures I have a tendency to go with the flow. Even in a working situation I almost never know what to turn my camera on until I stumble on the motive by chance. I do seem to get away with what I intended to get strangely enough.

  28. Posted April 15, 2012 at 7:56 am by Mike Blanchard | Permalink

    Cool shot! I really like the mimicking angles between the 2 subjects and the contrast as well….dirty light and pure white. Nicely done Christopher.

  29. Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm by Naemick Photography | Permalink

    Super catch! Well done!

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    […] really pleased that Semper Paratus  was named a noteworthy image this week on Thanks to all who might have put in a […]

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    […] really please that an image from my other photoblog, Being In Focus, was named a noteworthy image by This entry was posted in Things and tagged […]

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