Chasing the light is not zen-like

I was able to telecommute today, and as I was working from home, I was also keeping an eye on the weather outside my home office window.  From my upstairs room, I could see the sun trying to peek through the dark clouds throughout the day as the wind blew the tree branches back and forth.  At about 4:30 PM, I decided to log off the computer, and I gathered up my camera and tripod and headed toward the west in hopes that there would be a sunset worth capturing.

Today it wasn’t to be.  As I drove west in rush hour traffic, the sun completely disappeared behind the cloud cover, so it was obvious there wasn’t going to be any “glow” in the sunset.  Instead, it began to get dark even quicker, and what little dramatic lighting there had been was just about gone.  I came to a roadblock where Olive Avenue had been closed due to flooding from the past two days’ rain, so I turned around and headed back east.  In the distance I could see the silver dome of the UOP stadium shining against the dark clouds, so I headed in that direction back over to Westgate to see if I could find anything interesting in the area.  As I drove west, I spotted the Zanjero development, and decided there might be just enough light to get a couple of shots. Zanjero is (was) a beautiful development that started construction just as the economy took a dive.  It has never been occupied, but it’s still a beautiful structure, surrounded by dilapidated construction fencing and fields of sagegrass.

I set up the camera on my tripod and took several bracketed series of shots, but I felt rushed the entire time I was there.  I was in such a hurry to catch the light that I overlooked several important things:

  1. I walked away from the car with my camera and tripod, leaving my wallet and keys in my unlocked vehicle sitting on the side of the road.  Granted I wasn’t that far away, but it was far enough that I wasn’t comfortable about it.
  2. I forgot to take my new cable release with me….I left it in my camera bag back in the car.  I was afraid that I would lose the light by the time I walked back to the car to get it, so I just tripped the shutter without it.
  3. I set the camera on aperture-priority, but I didn’t even look at the f-stop that I was using, so the depth of field could have been anything.

I was just in a hurry to get the shots before the light was gone, my car was stolen, or the police arrested me for trespassing on private property.  Overall, it was way more stressful than it should have been, and not at all zen-like.

I was fairly pleased, however, with the shots that I got, considering the light that was available.  Here’s an HDR rendering of one of them that I cropped somewhat:

And here’s one that I took from a little further away:

So, my lesson learned today is that I need to plan my shooting a little better.  Until I’m more proficient with my equipment, I need to plan my shooting sessions a little more in advance, allowing myself plenty of time to set up my equipment so that I can look at the results of each shot.  I need to adjust the settings, and try the shots again and again, so that I can learn how the different settings change the way the image is captured.  I need time to enjoy the experience of taking photos, otherwise this is going to become more of a chore than a pleasure.  Zen is all about being happy and present in the moment.  My goal for tomorrow is to spend at least a couple hours just taking my time and enjoying whatever I shoot.



  1. Make sure to sit down and read the camera manual from front to back once or twice. This will get you familiar with the camera more. Then you need to just sit in the house and play around with the settings to learn the menu system and know how to find certain settings quicker. Once you do those two things, even if you are rushed to get that great shot you can feel comfortable in knowing that you had all the settings right.

    Oh and I almost forgot, don’t be like me and forget to check was settings your shooting with as you’ll get a bunch of photos that don’t turn out at all and you’ll have to go back to shoot them again! 😉

  2. Oh, I’ve already read the manual, and I have it on my bedside table so I can re-read certain sections of it that may be unclear. The primary thing that’s going to help me is to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. I just want to allow myself more time when I’m shooting to think about what I’m doing…I’ve been concentrating on sunrise and sunset shots for the past week where the light changes so quickly. Maybe I need to do a few still life shots this weekend! 🙂

  3. Yes, true that all the practice and planning are important. After all, look at what the best photogs in the world, the National Geographic people, produce — consistently great pictures. They know their equipment, keep records, plan well.

    However, sometimes the best picture is the one that “just happens,” with a single ray of light breaking through the clouds or a person walking through a scene and casting just the right shadow or presenting just the right human presence. There are some things you can’t plan — but the prepping and the practicing have you ready to take advantage of them when they happen.

  4. Congratulations on discovering HDR photography. I’ve been using Photomatix for about 3 years now and love the program. One thing you might like doing is pseudo HDR photos. You take one shot and tone map it. Sometimes you can get great results by doing this.

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