Ever found yourself in a photography predicament? Yeah. Me, too. When those happen, we have a choice. We can give up or find a workaround. Sometimes, the workaround might involve something as simple as giving up our ideal.
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Same Predicament, Second Verse
“Hey, let’s rent a cabin near Talkeetna for a few nights while we’re in Alaska this Christmas,” I said to Pedro.
“Hoping to see the Northern Lights this time?” he said.
“Yep. We can’t have horrible luck twice, right?” I joked.
“Remind me what happened last time,” he said.
“It was overcast both nights we stayed in Talkeetna.”
“Go for it,” he said, “I’d love to see them, too.”
It seemed like a failproof plan. Alaska, long periods of darkness, what could go wrong?
We enjoyed the charming cabin but ended up in the same predicament. Overcast skies and no Northern Lights. Our second-to-the-last night there the clouds finally dumped a load of snow, and a brilliant full moon came up in the evening.
I checked my Aurora app, hoping against hope it would forecast the Aurora Borealis. But no. Upon further searching, I discovered the full moon makes one’s chances of seeing a light display next to nothing. Furthermore, almost constant overcast conditions in December and January make sightings rare, too.
Obviously, my lack of proper planning put me in this predicament…again.
I Had a Choice
The next morning, I decided to enjoy our last full day with a cross-country ski adventure. The sky had just started to turn light when I headed down the driveway to cross the road and ski along a power line trail. Despite the frigid weather, I quickly warmed up as I pushed through 18 inches of squeaky powder.
My daughter’s dog raced ahead of me with pure, unadulterated joy, and I quickly picked up on her mood. Who cared if I’d missed the Northern Lights…again? I had that morning, fresh snow, the spruce trees laden with white, and the baby blue sky.
As I approached a clearing, I glanced to the left, wondering if perhaps I’d spot a moose. Instead, I saw the outline of the Great One—Denali—rising out of a skirt of pink mist. I had no idea I’d see the mountain from anywhere close to the cabin.
A serendipitous moment. With only my iPhone in my pocket. No matter, I skied closer to the meadow and snapped away. Nothing could take away my wonder and awe at beauty before me.
In both situations, I had a choice. I could bemoan my predicament or chose to make do with what I had. Better preparation would have helped me in my quest to see and photograph the Northern Lights. But carrying a DSLR and a telephoto lens whilst cross-country skiing in deep snow—not a great idea.
And so I’ll treasure my iPhone photos of Denali in the pink mist, and do more research before I attempt to photograph the Northern Lights again.
Hacks for Avoiding (or Living with) Photography Predicaments
Whether you photograph people, flowers, landscapes, or wildlife, you’ll probably discover yourself in some sort of predicament at some point.
Want to photograph shorebirds—check tide charts before you go out. Shorebirds will be closer to shore when the tide is in. According to the Audobon Society, you’ll see more birds mid-way through the incoming tide cycle, at high tide, and midway through the ebbing tide.
Get the urge to go shooting on a rainy day—go ahead and do it! Use clear plastic trash bags and rubber bands to protect your equipment. If you use the hood that came with your lens (most DSLR lenses come with a hood or have one available), use it to protect your glass from the elements. Clouds and rain actually allow you to shoot in good light for more hours of the day.
Want to photograph sunrises and sunsets in iconic places—do a web search before you go to find out which landmarks show up best during sunrise or sunset. I did this before going to Arches National Park, and I loved how the rising sun turned the arches a vibrant red color.
Forget your tripod—use any solid object and something soft to stabilize your camera. I’ve used a pillow on the hood of my car, a jacket bunched up next to a rock, and a small bean bag. Not ideal, but all those things work to help you out in a pinch.
Want to take photos from a canoe, kayak or boat. It can be done! Invest in a good waterproof bag and take a minimal amount of equipment with you. Keep a couple of small towels in the bag along with your camera so you can dry your hands off before touching your equipment. Keep the camera sealed up in the waterproof bag whenever you aren’t actively using it.
It’s Your Attitude That Matters
Having a flexible attitude plays a key role in working around a photography predicament. They will happen. Back in the olden days, I shot a whole roll of film of a black bear and her three cubs at Yellowstone National Park. When I developed the roll, I had nothing. Evidently, the film hadn’t advanced correctly on the spindle when I loaded it.
You can avoid some predicaments by planning ahead, and deal with others by not getting flustered. Photography requires creative problem-solving and an ability to go with the flow. Enjoy yourself, and it will show in your photos.
Play the ‘What if?’ game with yourself before you head out with your camera. Ask yourself, “What if the light is bad?” How would you handle that situation (bring a source of shade if you need to)? “What if I want to photograph flowers, and it’s windy?” How could you block the wind? Repurpose your kids’ old science fair boards and drape them with black fabric.
Pick a day or time of day that’s NOT ideal for photography, and go through possible scenarios and solutions. When a real-life predicament comes up, you will already have problem-solving practice.
Come Back Tomorrow
Tomorrow’s installment of 28 Days Behind the Lens will delve into the golden hours.