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When I look at my collection of photographs, my favourites are always the ones I really had to work for.
75% of the time I photograph what is in front of me, what is there when I get there, and I make the best of whatever weather conditions and light are present. But the other 25% I chock up to sheer stubbornness, or in other words, perseverance and patience.
Recently I was in Nevada in the Valley of Fire State Park where I stayed at an RV park that was an hour away from the park entrance. I spent hours doing research about the park and learned about a specific location I wanted to photograph called “Fire Wave” which was not on the park maps.
It took about 1.5 hours to drive to the trail head and another half an hour or so to hike there (it sure seemed longer in the heat). When I got there, the light was just terrible. It was a grey sky day. I was hoping at the last minute the light would break through and give me the drama I wanted but it didn’t happen.
What was worse was a group of rude photographers who had also discovered the location. Usually I find other photographers are helpful to each other, staying out of each other’s way, and taking turns making images. But not these people. They were purposefully leaving bags and tripods in the way of specific points of view while they were photographing a different point of view, preventing other photographers from getting the shot. They were all together and I believe they drove out from Las Vegas for the day, so I guess they felt they owned the shot.
It just wasn’t to be. But I persevered.
A couple of days later I tried again. Another 3 hour drive round trip, another $10 park entrance fee, another hike in even greater heat to a place I had already seen, but this time it was different. There were a few other photographers there, but they were nice people. There was some lovely light, some puffy clouds, and I got the shot.
When I visited Florida, I really wanted to make some images of wading birds with reflections. It was one of the dream images I always wanted to make — the image I had in my mind before I ever went to Florida. In hopes of getting the shot, I rented a lens specifically for the occasion.
First I did a trip out to the park one afternoon to scout the location and figure out where I might be able to make such a shot. I found a section of water that was somewhat protected from the wind where a few birds were hanging out and I figured it was a good candidate.
The next day I got up long before the sun rose and drove to the park to be there as soon as it opened in the morning. I drove along the park drive to the location I picked, got my gear out, positioned myself on the shore, and waited. I waited and waited and nothing happened. Eventually the light got bright and the wind came up and there was no longer a possibility of getting the shot I wanted. I went on to make other images, but I didn’t get the one I really wanted.
So I went back the next morning and did the same thing. Drove to the location, got my gear out, sat and waited and waited. This time some birds came, but so did the wind and while I got some nice images, I still didn’t get the one I dreamed of.
So I persevered and went yet again. I think the man who opens the park gate in the morning was wondering why I was the first person there three days in a row. But on the third day, my fourth visit, it was as calm as calm can be. The light was perfect. I sat motionless waiting and waiting and then payoff!! I got three birds with perfect reflections: a spoonbill (this is the image I always dreamed of), a wood stork and an egret.
Never have I had a bigger payoff for my stubbornness.
At Bandon Beach in Oregon, I wanted to make an image of the sun setting behind the rocks. There was lovely colour in the sky, but just as the sun starting making its descent towards the horizon the wind came up. It got windier and colder and I got pelted with sand and soaked with sea spray until finally I was the only photographer left on the beach. I was shivering cold, but determined to make the image I wanted.
I used a UV filter on my lens to protect it from the ocean spray that soaked everything and the blowing sand that felt like a sand blaster. I was getting the odd image, but they were always clouded with water, salt and sand. I turned my lens away from the wind as best I could, blocking it with my body, cleaned it and quickly put the lens cap on.
Then I got everything set up exactly the way I wanted it, quickly removed the lens cap, and took the shot. Then I repeated that whole process with cleaning the filter and quickly taking the lens cap off to make the image. Rinse and repeat — literally!
Finally, after about twenty attempts, I got a clean shot that was just what I wanted, made only moments before it would have been too late.
Occasionally getting a great image is pure luck. Usually we can make pretty good images at any time by using the light to our advantage. But more often than not I find the images that hit it out of the park are the ones I really worked for — when I planned everything out, persevered by going back to a location again and again, and tested my patience by waiting for the right light and enduring sea spray, blowing sand, freezing cold, or bug bites.
Those are the occasions that had the biggest payoff. Now, when I look at my collection, those are the images I am most proud of.