There’s a saying in the mountains: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes – it’ll change.
As photographers, we often need to wait for a photograph to come together; sometimes it only takes a few seconds, sometimes a few days. But whether we’re waiting for a storm to pass, a moment to happen, or light to break over the hills, unless we’re in a controlled studio environment, wait we must.
The idea of waiting, and patience, was brought home to me on a recent trip to Seward, Alaska. We were staying in a beautiful little cabin on the shore of Resurrection Bay, with a view of the mountains across the water. (Actually, “potential” view is more accurate: the skies were so cloudy and stormy that the mountains only revealed themselves in patches; several days passed before we saw the entire range.)
There was a nice scene laid out before me that I could photograph right from the deck: a small boat tied up off-shore with the mountains behind. And within a few minutes of arriving and putting down our bags, I walked outside in the drizzling rain, and shot it.
A nice enough photo and simple to make, I congratulated myself for the easy pickings and went back to unpacking.
But we were staying here for a week, which afforded me an opportunity I don’t often have: to view a scene over and over at different times of day, in different light, and under different weather conditions without any additional effort on my part. And Seward was generous in changing the weather quickly and regularly.
Changes like this can be easy to overlook, especially when travelling. There’s often so much new to see and do, we (I) feel like there’s no time to sit around and wait for something to develop. There might be something more interesting around the corner! Quick, get the shot and move on!
Having the patience to wait for conditions to evolve may, in fact, be one of the hardest parts about making compelling landscape and travel photographs. It certainly is for me.
But over the course of the week, I was able to see the same scene rendered differently again and again, sometimes within just a few minutes. Having breakfast, downloading photos to the laptop, hanging up rain-soaked jackets to dry – all moments where I glanced outside and said “Hey, look at that!”
Changes in lighting and weather can sometimes be subtle, and sometimes dramatic. But even small changes in the position of the clouds or angle of the sun can have significant effects on the mood or feeling of a photograph. The images below were photographed within 80 minutes of each other while I enjoyed some nice hot tea on one of the few clear days in Seward. (It’s considered clear because the sun is breaking through the clouds.)
So which is the best photo? I don’t know – they’re all different. It didn’t necessarily take me six days to make a single good photograph, but spending that time was a great reminder that there isn’t a single perfect moment or set of lighting conditions that makes a scene worth photographing; once I’ve photographed a scene – even if I think I’ve made a great photo – I shouldn’t just check it off the list and look for the next spot.
So the next time I find myself at a location where I don’t like the conditions – be it light, weather, or whatever – I’m going to resist the urge to move on to look for something else. Instead, I’ll wait five minutes – it may very well change.
Tech Note: All the photos here were made with the Panasonic GH4 and Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8, with focal lengths of 46-80mm. All these photos have the same basic framing to illustrate the point; you can obviously do a lot more in situations like this by just changing your lens.