A photographer can occasionally capture an ideal image when a particular subject or circumstance randomly appears. Not so with my photo of dawn on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.
I had planned to capture the sunrise in my accompanying photo since I first visited the lake with a friend one summer. An early riser, I had noticed from our room at Silver Sands Motel that dawn on the lake transformed the sky into a mix of fiery orange, pink and purple. This spectacular scene stuck with me when we visited again the next summer. This time, though, I was determined to capture it in pixels.
One morning, I set my iPhone alarm to sound at dawn. The previous day we had hiked Mount Major, so when I woke up, my sore legs and knees beckoned me to stay snug in bed. But there they were again, those rich colors that come with sunrise on the lake, framed by the sliding glass doors. Opportunity overruled recuperation.
Knowing dawn and dusk can be fleeting for photographers that savor such ideal lighting, I tossed the covers aside and scrambled for my camera bag and other equipment with almost the urgency of a sleepy-eyed firefighter en route to extinguish a blaze. With bag strapped over my shoulder and tripod in hand, I dashed past the pool, picnic area and beach to make my way down the dock. I planted my tripod near its edge and guarded against a haste-induced accident that might send my mounted Nikon D90 to the bottom of the lake.
No, I was not a photographer entering a war zone nor some jungle lurking with man-eating beasts. But I was armed with my remote release, a handheld, shake-reducing device that lets me take shots without touching my camera atop the tripod. I aimed my lens at the black- and dark blue-silhouetted mountains and evergreens that served as the backdrop to the lake that the sky had rendered a reflective pink, all the while switching my settings, from automatic to manual, to flash and no-flash, as I snapped away.
After maneuvering my lens in different directions and carefully shifting my tripod to various spots, I trekked back to the beach to get a wider perspective on this scene. That’s when I caught what I considered my money shot. This new location let me enter the dock, including its tackle shop with a mock-moonlit sign that read “Silver Sands Marina,” into my viewfinder. Then, as I continued to shoot, a lone duck swam serenely past, only to add to this already perfect scene.
Despite my temperamental remote release, I was able to capture the exact shot I wanted before it faded away. But while the photo looked great on my camera screen there and then, would it look the same on my MacBook? When I downloaded the images to my laptop, most were dispensable, which is expected when taking numerous, hasty shots. In post-processing, I opted not to crop out the dock and tackle shop from my main shot, in order to give it a sense of place and perspective, as well as to include the man-made, something many nature photographers probably would consider distracting. I also kept more water than sky in the shot, because of the distinct split between the dark blue and pink reflections on the lake.
Sometimes a photographer can have, say, a rare and beautiful bird alight on a park bench near him. And he can simply, though with gingerly urgency, grab his camera strapped around his neck and start shooting, hoping his settings and the natural light are just right before his subject flaps its wings to quickly depart. Much more frequently, however, capturing ideal subjects and scenes requires at least some logistical thinking, particularly to set out to shoot when timing and lighting are ripe.
These are just some of the constellation of factors a photographer often must consider in an effort to freeze in time that “wow” moment.