Capturing the Surprises of Nature and Landscape Photography
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.” – Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is on just about everyone’s list of favorite movies, and for good reason. There are many famous scenes and lines in the movie, but the quote above is the most famous and ranks as number one.
It struck me how much it relates to nature and landscape photography. There isn’t a day that I’m out there in the field that I know what is going to happen. Mother Nature is one big box of chocolates when it comes to photographing the beauty of nature.
The Unpredictability of the Critters
I spent many years in wildlife photography before making a move to landscape photography. They are different, but there are similarities. The “box of chocolates” metaphor is probably more applicable to wildlife photography than it is to taking photos of landscapes.
With wildlife, you don’t even know if the bird, elk, bear or other critter is even going to be there when you arrive. Sometimes just finding them results in a self-congratulatory high-five. Then, you immediately go through the mental checklist. Are they going to stay while I get in position with my tripod? Is the light good? Can I position myself where the background is going to be good? Will the critter look up and in the right direction?
Waiting and Hoping for the Breach
When I was off the coast of Seward, Alaska photographing humpback whales, I had no idea when a whale might breach. I had a great boat captain that understood I wanted to have the whale between me and the mountains. With my camera practically attached to my face and set to take 10 frames a second, we kept moving in an effort to be in the right place.
Out of almost nowhere, the whale breached and I cranked off a bunch of images and got exactly what I was hoping for. The “box of chocolates” gave me a good one.
Will The Bird Do What I Want?
Some years ago I was photographing birds in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. At that time, it was a great place for Roseate Spoonbills. I was set up early one morning with my tripod and 600mm telephoto lens near one of the ponds that had some Spoonbills. There was a sandbar in the pond that had this dead branch lodged in the sand.
I thought it would be really cool if one of the Spoonbills would walk up on the stick and spread its wings. They seemed to be content to stand in the shallow water nearby. I wasn’t going to leave unless they did. I knew it didn’t care, but I kept talking to the one closest to the branch telling it to walk up it. Well, darn if it didn’t do just that! I cranked away and captured one of my favorite bird images of my time shooting them. I had no idea that was going to happen. A very sweet piece of chocolate indeed.
Landscapes Are Equally Unpredictable
Unlike wildlife, we know the subject, be it the mountain, river, sand dune, etc. is going to be there. We don’t have to wait for it to come out of the woods at just the right time. What is unpredictable in this “box of chocolates” is the weather.
We all know that weather forecasts are not very reliable. However, if the forecast is for clear skies with no clouds at all or for 100% chance of rain, then there probably isn’t going to be much to photograph that involves having a sky in the scene. This is why I usually stay in a location for a week or so.
A Little Luck On the Ring Road
I had been in Iceland for almost two weeks, having made my way around the entire Ring Road from north to south. I had a couple of days to spend in Vik, home to the Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. I really, really, really wanted to shoot Seljalandsfoss from under the falls looking out towards a nice sunset. It was number one goal of this summer expedition.
It was late in the afternoon and it was time to decide if I was going to spend the sunset hour at which of the two waterfalls. I knew I would need a mostly clear sky, especially at the horizon to capture the image at Seljalandsfoss that I wanted so badly. It seemed pretty clear so I went for it. I wasn’t going to take a chance on it being good the following day, my last day there.
I got in position, standing in the mist behind the falls with my camera on my tripod and cleaning the mist off the lens before each shot. There were some clouds down low, but there was a sliver of an opening. It was enough to light up the sky with brilliant color for just a minute or two. I had no idea I was going to get that lucky. It was a very good piece I got from the “box of chocolates”.
An Electric “Box of Chocolates”
The summer “monsoon season” is when many landscape photographers want to be in the Grand Canyon. I spent 10 days there one summer to capture the action myself. Fortunately, I was able to monitor the weather radar all day every day.
On one of the afternoons, I could see a storm cell moving from the southwest to the northeast. My best guess of the place to be for it was Grandview Point so I headed there. My camera was on my tripod and set up for ½ second exposures, which I would take one after another as fast as the camera would take them.
I wasn’t alone as there were other people there. I could see that the storm cell would come from behind me to my left and pass in front of me at the viewpoint. It did just as I had hoped and I captured the image I was looking for. Afterward, I did think about how it was probably more dangerous than I expected and promised myself I wouldn’t put myself in that position again. I will avoid that “box of chocolates” in the future.
Not Knowing What You’re Going to Get
Whether it’s “Life” in general, Landscape or Wildlife Photography, or other outdoor activities, you’re probably in for some surprises. That’s a good thing. Forrest Gump’s line is very similar to saying Variety is the Spice of Life.
All the chocolates in the box are good as far as I’m concerned.