An unremarkable country road became remarkable in the light of the post-thunderstorm sun. With such incredible lighting, I want to be in the mountains or a forest meadow or a seaside village. Capturing the photo of a lifetime may be more about planning than any other factor.
I got hooked on photography about when I realized that I love to write. The obsession makes it impossible for me to work in my small kitchen garden without a camera at the ready. In fact, leaving the house always involves a mental argument about whether to leave the camera home. It ends with the observation: If the camera stays home, it will miss its chance to capture the single most amazing scene ever.
That’s the best photography tip I have to offer.
My Most Amazing Scene Ever
Just last week, a thunderstorm floated through late in the day. I had to run errands that involved picking up and dropping off kids. As I was preparing to go, the storm’s edge became apparent to the west and reddened sunlight streamed low under the heavy cloud cover: Sun showers at first, but when the rain stopped, surreal, warm colors on the ground under dark skies. The word sensational barely does the lighting justice.
I had to drive. One kid here, another there… oops, not there, so that other place instead. Along the way, I glimpsed scene after astonishing scene, but I couldn’t stop; couldn’t capture the incredible light.
Remarkably, even after a half hour of delivering kids, I had time before the light would die… but not much time. Near panic, I drove through a neighborhood hoping to find scenes this light especially embraced. There weren’t many, and some were too dark for my camera to record well without a tripod.
So, I settled on a field that abuts the driving range at the local golf course. Got a few shots that celebrate the spectacular evening storm-chasing sunlight. The subject? Mediocre. Composition? Nothing amazing. But look at the light! The light is the subject; it is the composition. But it makes me sad that this is all I could do with the light I had.
My Camera Battery Died
For two weeks a spare camera battery had been in my pocket, but on this day I had removed it. I was two miles from home with light so rare that it made mundane scenes remarkable, and the only battery along for the ride was empty.
Of course, the road home revealed scene after scene taunting me for my shortsightedness. And, when finally I had a fresh battery in hand, the light was gone. I’ve mentally marked a few locations I’ll visit first if ever such light again touches our town.
What Makes a Master Photographer
This lighting incident has convinced me that what distinguishes a master photographer from the rest of us is that the master chases the photo opportunity. I carry my camera in case I happen upon an opportunity and sometimes I get lucky. The master relies very little on luck. It’s no accident when you scout locations, lug in your gear, fully understand how to use your gear, compose the photograph, and wait until the light—that incredible, elusive light—joins you and you capture it all.
If you want to capture the single most amazing scene ever, never leave home without your camera. Oh. And take along an extra battery.
I would never have snapped this subject in the normal light of day. But in the few minutes after completing taxi service for my teenagers and before the post-storm sunset, this was one of the most compelling scenes I could find. For a photographer, sometimes lighting is everything.