We’ve all been there. You scout out the location for a shoot, plan the time of the day for the sweet light, and visualize the shot you want to bring home. All this planning, the early morning alarm clock, the drive to the right place, the anticipation of getting the shot you’ve dreamed of… and then the light you had hoped for doesn’t happen.
Now what? Do you pack up and go home? How do you find photographic inspiration when you are faced with disappointment? That might be the time to look for other sources of inspiration, maybe macro or maybe ICM, or just wait and be open to what nature provides for you. You may not get the shot of your dreams, but you can still have fun and who knows just what might develop!
Here are some concrete ideas to help you get creative when you are disappointed with the conditions before you.
Realize that it’s still fun to be out photographing, even if the conditions aren’t what you hoped for. Try something unique.
State of mind is everything for me when I’m out with my camera. I try to stay “glass half full” even if I’m initially disappointed by the conditions. A good example of this was a visit to the beautiful white birch forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I planned my visit for peak foliage in early October, hoping for the bright yellow leaves, the white birch trunks, and a crystal blue sky. I could see the image in my mind!
But nature had other plans. The light was dimmer than I expected because of overcast skies. A fairly stiff breeze had the yellow leaves dancing around on the branches with way too much movement for the slow shutter speed I would need. Now what? Turn around and go home?
No way! Time to get creative and make do with what I had!
Time for ICM
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) isn’t something I play with often, but when a colorful scene is before me and especially when there are strong vertical or horizontal lines, I like to play a bit and see what happens. This image of the breezy birch forest turned out to be one of my favorites of that day because it “felt” like what I was experiencing in the woods. Success!
Using intentional camera movement to create this image turned out to be a great way to show the windy conditions in the forest that day.
Be patient and hope that conditions change
I got up ridiculously early to arrive at the Foothills Parkway in the Great Smoky Mountains having heard the forecast and knowing that fog in the valley was likely. I love to capture the first rays of light as the sun peaks out from behind the distant mountains and lights up the foggy valley. It was pitch dark when I arrived and I carefully set up on the roadside, sipping hot coffee and waiting for the light… the light that never arrived. Sigh. The skies didn’t get the memo and it was cloudy beyond belief. Oh, there was fog all right, but there would be no sunlight to illuminate it. Now what…
I could finish my coffee and pack up and go home or I could just wait for a bit. I didn’t have anywhere else to be and I can think of worse places to spend a morning. So I waited… and waited… and then, for just a moment, there appeared the most glorious rays of light from within the heavy clouds! I quickly snapped off a few frames and, just like that, the light show was over.
When the grand landscape doesn’t live up to expectations, go small
A good friend of mine always talks about the intimate landscape which is a fairly romantic way to describe macro photography. This is what I often turn to when conditions for a good landscape shot don’t develop. I always bring my macro lens when I’m out shooting, especially if I’m hiking. You just never know what you might discover as you walk along. And macro is a good thing to turn to when the conditions that you dreamed of don’t match the reality of the situation.
When the rushing stream that I had hoped to photograph turned out to be little more than a tiny trickle, I decided to enjoy my time in the forest and look for macro subjects. I arrived with one type of image in my mind but I left with very different but wonderful macro shots. I didn’t get the stream shot I had hoped for, but I used my visit to the woods to get some fun photographs that I really like. And I had a wonderful time getting up close and personal with the forest!
So remember to turn to macro when the sweeping landscape isn’t photogenic!
This image of a dewy spiderweb was shot in a bog in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had gone that morning to photograph dewy dragonflies still sleeping on flower buds. When I couldn’t find a single dragonfly, I noticed all the dewy spiderwebs everywhere! They looked like beautiful diamond necklaces! These are very difficult to photograph; the slightest movement and all the dew drops fall to the ground. Even though I never found a single dragonfly that morning, I had a splendid 2 hours trying to photograph the delicate spider webs! Both of the mushroom images used focus stacking to get enough depth of field to allow for front to back sharpness.
Be open to new opportunities that you had not anticipated
I learned this lesson in a dramatic way on a dive trip to Roatan a few years ago. It was the last dive of the trip and everyone was excited about the chance to do a “swim through” on the dive. A swim through is essentially a large crack in the reef that is wide enough to easily go through and often gives you the amazing sensation of skydiving out into the deep blue when you exit the crack! It can be exhilarating, but for me it often turns out to be claustrophobic and isn’t usually good for photos. So I had decided to skip the swim through and discussed this with the dive master ahead of time. I would just wait on top of the reef for the other divers to complete the swim through and I’d meet up with them on the other side.
But instead of just floating around and waiting, I took the opportunity to make the most of my time underwater and carefully looked around for something special to photograph. And did I ever find it! I discovered that the upper part of the reef was full of large barrel sponges which were spawning! I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is rarely observed and quite spectacular. I quickly took some photographs and then alerted the other divers of the sponges so they could witness the event. Had I just moped around waiting for the other divers without being open to something unexpected, I would have missed this amazing and rare sight!
Female barrel sponge ejects eggs into the water column, where they can mix with sperm from male sponges. This occurs at least twice a year and lasts only about an hour. The eggs shown above are large and tend to sink, while the sperm from the male sponge floats like a cloud across the reef.
So, the next time you are out photographing and reality isn’t matching up to what you hoped for, don’t give up. Try a new technique, use another photographic style, or at least be open to unforeseen events. You never know… you might just go home with something very special that you never expected!