Picture this for me and then file it in the “Glamorous Life of a Professional Photographer” file. Right now, I am flying back from Colorado where I was intending to photograph wildflowers and enjoy the Rockies but where I instead lost 7 pounds in 6 days due to a dreadful stomach flu. But the hideousness of that experience is nothing compared to the one I now find myself in. I am, for the next two hours, stuck in the middle of air passenger Hell. I find myself surrounded by misbehaving toddlers.
I am in row 13, seat C a perfectly nice isle seat. To my left is a 2-year old little monster-girl in 13B. Her mother, with an infant apparently surgically attached to her left breast, is in 13A. The Devil child is currently kicking the seat table with her little monster-girl feet and pounding her little monster-girl head into my left arm. A moment before she was including me in her make believe puppet games with the air sickness bag. I am not an unfriendly guy but when I am on a plane I just want to be left alone. I also am at a bit of a loss as to what to do when Barfy, the bag puppet, comes a calling.
In seat 12D there is a wrinkled little salamander (a new born) who can’t be much older than last night’s sports section which I am so desperately trying to read. She is, actually, doing just fine, sleeping the flight away. But she is attracting the attention of every passing grandmother on the flight. This is also fine except each one insists on bending over to get a better look at the little newt. This, of course, places an old and at least so far, ample derriere precisely in my face. I am becoming more keenly aware of the fragrances of the elderly than I really need to be. “So how was your flight to Chicago?” “Depends.”
In seat 13D is a cute little boy about 3 years old who just threw up. I suspect he will do it again. Need I say more?
In seat 14D is another curly haired little monster-girl in little ducky diapers. They are just not regular little ducky diapers though, they are poopie little ducky diapers. I know this because she has been telling everyone between rows 9 and 16 for the last five minutes and because……well, let’s just say it is very obvious she is telling the truth. Apparently, her parents are suffering both hearing and olfactory loss.
This was just the first 15 minutes of the flight. It went on for two hours, two whole hours. So the next time you fantasize about being a professional photographer and think how wonderful it would be to travel all the time remember my time in the Terrible Toddler Triangle. Excuse me, I’ve got to get up. A spontaneous group breast-fest has broken out and I am suddenly very thirsty.
You are probably wondering why I bring this up in a photography column. Well, it is all about timing. I could’ve caught an earlier flight but instead I chose this one. I am beginning to realize that timing is every thing in photography as well. Not everyday is created equal. You can do all that you want, pull out every trick in your bag but if the timing isn’t correct you lose.
In every season there are only a few days when every thing is perfect, when everything is just as you wish it to be. Sometimes it is not even a few days. Some seasons all you get is an afternoon or the first few hours of a morning. The rest of the time there is always something not quite right. The wind is blowing, the light is too harsh, your mind is elsewhere, your body is elsewhere, whatever, there is always something wrong.
You get a very limited time when things are perfect. Flowers are not in full bloom forever, they begin to deteriorate almost immediately. Greens leaves are not always bright and glossy, insects attack them and begin to look ragged quite quickly. The sun is not always in the right location, animals do not always look good and fog is not always so thick and still and perfect.
You know this is true. You know it when you are not photographing and one of those perfect times come rolling along and there is nothing you can do about it. You will tell yourself that tomorrow will be just as good or that the next time you come back will perfect too but you know better. A perfect time comes only so rarely that if you don’t take advantage of it right away you will just have to wait until one rolls along again. That can be a long wait.
I missed the lady slippers this year because I thought that I would get another time or two when they were in bloom to photograph them. I was wrong. I am going to have to wait until next June. We had two crisp, clear days in June that were perfect for landscapes. All the other June days had hazy white horizons that look terrible on film. I was busy for each of those days. Each of the following days when I was ready weren’t nearly as good. I put my photograph off and I paid the price.
We had one perfect day in June when there was a heavy dew, no wind and beautiful diffused light. The flowers I wanted to photograph were fresh and looking great. This all lasted one morning, but I was busy. The next time I got up to the flowers the light wasn’t so good, there was no dew and the flowers were not in perfect condition. I could’ve taken some pictures and I might have been able to create a nice shot but it wouldn’t have been as good as the shot I would have taken on the perfect morning.
There are dozens of stories like this. For two years in a row I have been in the Sol Duc old-growth forest in Olympic National Park on a perfect day. Each time I didn’t have my camera because I was leading a workshop. Each time I went back just a few days later to try to get some of the images I saw and they were all gone. The conditions and the forest and every thing else had changed and it wasn’t the same.
This spring I was teaching a workshop and we hit a perfect day at my favorite wildflower spot. I went back four days later and didn’t take a single shot. Three years ago at this same location I went looking for a wildflower that I had tried to photograph for 17 years. I had one afternoon to photograph while it was blooming and I hit it perfectly. Everything was exactly how it needed to be and I happened to catch it perfectly. Part luck, part local knowledge, part perseverance.
So what is the point? Should you only photograph on those few perfect days? No, of course not. You should photograph whenever you can. But you should try, if at all possible to take advantage of those rare perfect days. Don’t put it off or you’ll regret it. For your best results you need the best possible situation. This is why pros take so long to take a picture and why they stay in one spot for so long. They are waiting for just the perfect situation. They are waiting for the proper timing.
The flight is mercifully coming to an end. As we slowly pull up to our gate the little monster-girl in 13B is finally asleep. She has bad timing, she shouldn’t be a photographer. I would love to wake her up or maybe tie her little monster-girl shoelaces together but the timing isn’t right. I am a photographer, I know this. Before I get into any trouble I better get off the plane. It’s time.