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Sometimes, landscape photography is as much about waiting as it is about getting the photograph itself. I took this shot at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. When we arrived well before morning, we found ourselves in the midst of a heavy fog bank. Even as the sun began to share a little of its warmth, visibility was limited to a few meters, and the lake was invisible below us. We met a few other photographers, but it was clear that most had no plans to stay. They were disappointed by what they felt was a missed photographic opportunity.
But being in a place like this is incredible – and fog offers an opportunity. Deprived of our vision, we can use our other senses to take in the beauty of a place. Is Moraine Lake no longer beautiful simply because we can’t see it? I don’t believe that. I could feel the breeze. I could hear the birds and the rustle of the pines in the wind. I could smell the clean air. The quiet gave me a sense of perfect calm that lasted even as tourists began to arrive, with all their chatter.
We waited for two hours or more.
And then – quite suddenly – the fog lifted. One moment, the scene was wrapped in a dense cloud… and five minutes later, not a shred of mist remained. Luckily, I was ready for it. I had my camera set up and ready. I took several shots – moving from one spot to another to capture a variety of compositions. In a few short minutes, the show was over.
I think it’s safe to say that I love the wait as much as I love the moment itself. Just being that is perfect pleasure.
Here are a few tips for playing the waiting game:
1. Be ready for it… whatever it is. Stay alert and watch for changes in the sky or your surroundings. There are usually clues that it’s almost time to take the shot. Watch for alpenglow before sunrise (if you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to miss), and be ready for the first light of sunrise. On this foggy morning, I was ready for the moment the fog lifted because I noticed the highest peaks starting to appear through the fog. It was very subtle at first, but as soon as I noticed them, I was on my feet and ready to shoot.
2. Don’t give up. Of course, there are days when the fog simply won’t lift at all. And days when the sunrise is lost in a heavily overcast sky. But don’t give up on the moment. Create a photograph that is different from what you might have gotten if the conditions were ideal. Overcast days are great for detail shots. Heavy fog makes amazing minimalist landscapes. Get creative!
3. Be prepared. Sometimes, we end up staying on location much longer than we anticipated. We might decide to stay and do some light painting after sunset. Or cloudy skies might clear, and we’ll decide to photograph the Milky Way. We do a lot of research so we are as ready as we can be… but conditions change, and so do plans. I always bring along a hat and gloves and an extra jacket – because not matter how warm it is during the day, nights can get chilly. Be sure to bring along enough water – and maybe a snack – so you don’t feel compelled to return if you’d rather stay a little longer. Or a lot longer. 🙂
On our way back down the mountain, this beautiful little grizzly cub dashed across the road right in front of our car. I had my camera in hand, so I could grab a quick shot as he passed. It’s not a work of art, but it was pretty cool to get the shot anyway. 🙂
There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.