Some of my favorite photos are the ones that took time to create. When I look at them, I remember the planning and anticipation that was involved. There’s a story behind these photos. This is one of the ways that you can improve your photography with patience.
A photo starts with your vision. You may be in front of what you are going to shoot, or you may even be at home just thinking about it.
This shot of a zebra in Tanzania actually started with the puddle on the road. We had stopped our safari truck to watch a slow-moving herd of zebra. They were off to our right. Directly in front of us was a large puddle of water. I immediately could see a reflection photo in my mind. So, I planned my photo and hoped that a zebra would cooperate and walk across the road.
Many minutes later, the herd turned towards the road. I was excited but a little disappointed at first. They were moving in a group as they slowly ambled along. In my mind’s eye, I had envisioned a reflection of a single zebra, not a group. Finally, when most of them had gone past, this one lone straggler started across the road. I had my picture!
Every time I see this photo, I remember the vision and the moment it became real. I had really improved my photography with vision and patience.
My shot of Gwanghwamun Gate took months of planning and days of shooting to come together.
This beautiful gate is the main entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest royal palace in Seoul, South Korea.
It was about a 15-minute walk from our apartment, and I really wanted an evening shot of it.
I knew that fall was the best time for this, because the wind shifts and starts blowing from the north. That clears out the smog. Unfortunately, for much of the year, when the wind is blowing from the west, Seoul gets a lot of air pollution from China. I wanted a clear night sky.
I studied The Photographer’s Ephemeris to learn when the blue hour would occur during the fall. It’s a great planning tool that allows you to see when and where the sun will set on a particular day.
The blue hour is a period of time (rarely as long as an hour, more like 10 or 15 minutes!) after the sun has gone below the horizon but the sky is still blue. The time of the blue hour gets earlier each evening in the fall. The rich blue color of the sky improves evening photos. The building lights almost glow against the blue.
Since weather happens, I planned for a week of possible shooting, to allow for any rain.
Execution: It’s time to shoot
I arrived at the site about half an hour early and decided on the best angle. Unfortunately, the blue hour coincided with rush hour, so I was going to have to contend with a lot of traffic. As I set up my tripod and waited for the sun to set, I watched the traffic pattern to see when there would be breaks. I didn’t want a photo of a traffic jam.
For a good shot, I needed the gate to be lit by spotlights, so I waited for them to turn on. Unfortunately, by the time that had finally happened, the sky behind the gate was black. Looking around, I could see that the sky was still blue to my left. I would need to return another night and change my shooting angle. I would need patience to improve my photography.
I arrived the second night and set up in the new position, on a different corner of the intersection. This corner presented some new problems. There was more foot traffic, so I had to be careful not to trip anyone with my tripod. There was also more vehicle traffic, so I had to wait until the traffic light was just about to change, when most of the cars and busses were out of the way.
As I waited for the spotlights to come on, I studied the traffic pattern. In the end, I had about ten minutes when the lights were on and the sky was still blue. During that time, I had three chances to shoot without traffic in the way, each one lasting less than a minute. I ended up with shots of fire trucks racing through the intersection and tourists gathering in front of the gate, but not the photo that I had planned.
Third try: Success
The third night, I finally got my shot, using patience to improve my photography.
I now knew where to stand, how to time the traffic and when the lights would come on.
I set my camera to manual with a slow shutter speed of six seconds to try to blur out the tourists in front of the gate. There was also a traffic policeman carrying a flashlight with a bright red cone on the end of it walking back and forth. Thankfully, six seconds made them all disappear.
If you look to the left of the shot, you’ll see a red streak. I decided to leave it in the photo. That was a car that was racing across the intersection after the light had turned red!
Have you ever wondered about the photo at the top of my blog page?
Here’s another shot from the morning I spent in a lavender field in Provence. We arrived before dawn to shoot this enormous field in Puimoisson. That little stone building is called a borie. Farmers use them for storage and as a good place to shelter in a sudden storm. The yellow line across the photo in the distance is a field of sunflowers.
I set up my tripod so the borie would appear on the right side of my photo and the distant mountain would be to the left. Then, I waited. Slowly the mist lifted (You can still see some in the distance.) and the sky brightened. Around my ankles, honey bees were buzzing and making a lot of noise. Yes, they made me very nervous! 😬
I had been shooting for about 45 minutes when I sensed something over my left shoulder. I glanced up and saw this hot air balloon drifting by. It was moving quickly, so it was only in the right place in the scene for one shot! And I got it!
Now it’s your turn
Do you have a photo you’ve always wanted to take? This is your challenge to plan how you would do it. Choose an app to judge the best date and time to take it. With PhotoPills, you can even plan ahead into future years and save the plans.
If the photo is local and you can get out to take it, go for it. Then share it in the comments! I’d love to see it and hear the story! If not, start planning how you will make it happen in the future. That is the best way to improve your photography with patience!
Curious? Here is some more reading:
In Shoot Better Night Photography, I talk about planning and patience as well as settings for night photography.
In It’s Magic! Making People Disappear! I write about how to set your camera to blur people out of a scene.
I mention patience in Capturing the Peak of Action.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is the tool I used to plan the date and time to shoot the gate in Seoul. There are many other apps that will tell you sunrise and sunset times, too. One of the best is PhotoPills.