My friend and photo buddy Gary, once told me, “It's better to be lucky than good.” I have seen the truth of that play out many times. Of course, it takes a lot of practice to be ready with your camera when the lucky moment arrives. We have all seen something amazing for just a moment. Then the light changes, the subject moves, etc. and the moment is gone before you can get your camera ready. Practice makes the camera a natural extension of your eyes and hands. Time isn't wasted on camera settings or composition. All that happens automatically because of prior practice. I continue to miss opportunities but I keep getting “luckier” with practice. I recently learned to relax into my photographer's journey and have gotten luckier as a result.
Here's my story. When I am out on a photography expedition, I get a little obsessive about getting “the shot”. I get up early, stay out late, hike farther, etc. Mostly, this is good for me. I am excited, having fun and getting out into nature for some fresh air and exercise. Sometimes though, I don't know when to stop. I take photos that I know I will not care about when I get home. I take photos “just in case”. I hurry and worry about getting somewhere before the light is gone. I rush around feeling pressured, not relaxed at all, pushing on to get more. I act like a kid on Halloween night trying to get too much candy. Not good. So in February, my wife and I were in Yosemite to shoot the “firefall”, also known as “Last Light on Horsetail Falls”, a photo made famous by Galen Rowell. We arrived at the lodge just outside Yosemite on Sunday night. Because I am obsessive, I got up at 4:00 AM and drove into the park to see if I could get a moonlit version of the firefall. I got a shot of El Capitan by moonlight and on the way back to our hotel, I stopped for a long exposure shot of sunrise over the Merced from Valley View. I was hoping for some clouds to color the sky and was disappointed with the shot. Later, when my wife saw it, she helped me to see the beauty in it. The simplicity and near monochrome has a peaceful clarity to it. (For her birthday, I made a jigsaw puzzle out of it for her).
Moonset over Merced by El Capitan
Sunrise from Valley View
After getting back to the lodge, I uploaded and began developing the catch of the morning. My wife woke up at a decent hour. We had a relaxed breakfast and drove into the park, stopping at a few points to take in the view. I travel at a more leisurely pace when I travel with my wife. I also tend to eat at reasonable times and take better care of myself. Around 11:00 AM, we stopped by the Merced river at the viewpoint for the firefall that I had picked out the night before (see photo above). To my amazement, there were already a couple of hundred people there with their tripods set up, waiting for the firefall, which if it occurred at all, wouldn't happen for another six and a half hours! Are you kidding me? All these people are planing to wait all day with no bathroom just to hold a spot for their tripod? My first instinct was to grab a spot while there still were some available.
Traveling with my wife lent some sanity to my thinking, so I decided we would go into Yosemite Village, get a sandwich, use the bathroom and come back later. There would be a spot for us somewhere and it would be just fine. I told myself, "Trust that things will work out". So we did just that and as we were sitting on the patio of Degnan's Deli, a bobcat walked by, not 30 feet away! My jaw dropped. I didn't have my camera. I looked at my wife and said, “I don't have my camera.” She said, “Go get it.” I said, “I'll be gone at least a half an hour.” ”Fine” she replied, and off I sprinted to the car. I figured the bobcat would head down the creek bed, so I tried to calm my breathing as I put on my 70 - 200 mm f2.8 lens and then sprinted to a point I hoped would be in front of the cat's path.
Within a minute, “Bob” as we have come to call him (her?) came strolling down the creek bed. Over the next 45 minutes, I got over a hundred shots, some from as close as 10 feet away, just by respecting the bobcat's personal space and staying out of his/her direction of travel. I would have missed the high point of that trip if I had followed my panic and staked out a spot for the firefall shot. Trusting brought me something better than anything I could have planned. I am trying to let this lesson permeate my whole life.
Bob coming over branch
Bob up close
Later that day, we did get a spot for the fire fall. Lucky again.
A photographer near me had been coming for 8 years to catch the fire fall and this was the first time he saw it. And yes, it was magical.
Last light on Horsetail Falls, 2-22- 2016
Though I had learned to trust that the shot would wait for me, I had not yet learned to wait for the shot.
After taking the shot above, the light faded and the waterfall went dark. A thousand photographers groaned, waited a minute or two and began packing up. I did the same. After my wife and I had walked a couple hundred yards down the road towards our car, I heard screaming and cheering from the photographers behind me. Looking to the right through the dense woods, I saw a red line on El Cap. Shouting expletives myself, I began running full speed through the woods towards the Merced river. I had to get to the bank to get a clear shot because the trees are too thick.
Leaping over branches and fallen trees, and pushing my way through thick brush, I finally got to the river. The tree branches overhung the view for another hundred yards to either side. I sprinted downstream to a clear spot with a huddle of photographers. One of them motioned to an open spot. I didn't have time in the fading light to get my 2x lens extension attached or my tripod legs extended. I just shot hand-held with my 70-200 in the last few seconds of remaining light.
Next lesson I need to learn is patience.
Very last light on Horsetail Falls
On our last day, we took a little walk along the Merced river behind the hotel. I saw a nice “frame” of the Merced between two oak trees. I thought, I'll just get my camera and capture that. It wasn't a great shot but there was something about it I liked. A moment later when I returned, my wife was motioning me to be quiet and look. There was a wild turkey sitting exactly in the frame I had seen earlier. Go figure!
The lesson for me is to relax and trust. The image will come if I am open to it. Another lesson is that I should carry my camera at all times!
Here are a few other shots from that trip.