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The Photo Not Taken

Some ideas for photos seem possible but just don't pan out. Some have to go by the wayside so you make other choices. Technical failures of all sorts can strike when least expected. Things happen. Don't let it get to you.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. Robert Frost's famous narrative poem from early in the twentieth century "The Road Not Taken" laments choices not made. While there is a sense of regret, the poem also conveys a note of possible satisfaction hidden in the outcome. As a photographer, choices are everywhere. Sometimes things work out as planned. Other times, not so much. And with each alternative followed, others are likely to be left behind. Photography happens in real time.

When waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon early in the morning, I often find myself sitting there, watching the shot I have line up. Arriving early, I will have already scouted out the location, found a composition that I expect to be of interest, and settled down to wait for the show to begin. Typically, my tripod mounted camera will be facing west, so that when the sun comes up, it will cast a magic golden glow on the scene. For a while, I'll have plenty of time to kill, but once things start to happen, my entire attention narrows to the task at hand. I've already made my choice. Even though the actual sunrise will be behind me, it's hard to look both west and east at the same time. Even if I were to recompose to face east, I could easily miss the decisive moment to the west. The road not taken.

Fishermen telling tales of the one that got away has become a common stereotype, but photographers do it too. The idea of a photographer regaling friends with arms spread wide with stories of the sunrise that was "this big" really doesn't seem that farfetched. Despite their best efforts, the focus may not come out sharp, the elk may turn his head at the last minute, or perhaps the lens cap never got removed. All sorts of things can happen. Even without taking a different road, you can still miss the shot. It happens far more often than any of us want.

But that doesn't mean all is for naught. Finding the shot meant you saw the shot. As frustrating as it can be to not end up with the goods, it can be worth realizing that many never get even that close. When the sun rises over a scenic vista, it can be beautiful indeed. And you were there to see it.

The photo that might have been can be a disappointment. No doubt about it. And I can only speak for myself, but getting the shot is only part of why I do this. Being there to witness the beauty of nature can be worthwhile whether I end up with proof of the occasion or not. If all I wanted was the photograph, it would be a lot simpler and probably cheaper to license one shot by someone else.

Most of us who photograph the natural world likely got started by first admiring the beauty of the natural world. Every now and then, I come across fellow photographers who seem to have lost sight of that. The photos are just icing on the cake.

Just thought I'd take a moment here to point that out.

Date posted: July 23, 2017


Copyright © 2017 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
The One That Got Away
A Tale of Two Photographers

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