Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! Bang! Silence. Beep! Beep! Beep! Smash! Silence. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! This is not an episode of Batman. These are the sounds from our tent in the early morning. What you are hearing is the delay of the inevitable: Getting up. There’s something about a warm cozy sleeping bag that has priority over freezing cold air. There’s something special about those last few minutes of sleep that turn into a half hour of snoozes….sometimes that’s the best kind of sleep, right? Ah, the woes of the beeps, buzzers and snoozes that keep us from our task: to get out and photograph the first light of day.
A nature photographer’s day is different from everyone else’s. Rise at the crack of pre-dawn in order to be somewhere before dawn; work until 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning; do little until late afternoon, typically around 4:00 PM and then photograph everything in sight in afternoon light until twilight. They do it all over again the next early morning. If it’s one of those special bright overcast days – or a rainy and ugly day for most people – you’ll find us out there all day, dawn to dusk, capturing the magic light on our subjects.
It’s a screwy and unpredictable life. If we plan for a clear day, it rains. If we want rain, it snows. If we want fog, it’s sunny and bright. We learn to work with what we get rather than what we want, staying open-minded, flexible, and ready. A good plan keeps us motivated.
How do you keep the procrastination and motivation going on a trip? By creating a plan. We find we are much more likely to rouse ourselves from the bed or bag when we have a definite plan for the morning. Without a plan, it’s very hard to give up a warm and comfortable bed. Besides, the weather might change for the worse, the sunrise never show up, or our subject just not cooperate. So why bother? If we know we need to be on the sand dunes to shoot patterns and scenics at sunrise…to sleep in costs us opportunities. If we must move on later that day, we may never get another chance. Even if we are staying, it will cost us another morning to try again. The loss cuts into other chances. A lost morning delays other plans during the day and like dominos, cascades throughout the day, messing up schedules and plans. The rush to catch up stresses us out, hampering our creativity and concentration.
Before going to a location, we take time to examine our files and stock lists for areas of incomplete coverage. By making a photographic want list and researching those subjects, we know ahead of time where a particular plant grows and when it blooms, the basic habits of local animals, what their food and water needs are, and what type of landscapes and artifacts may be found there. We study nature and field guides, travel guides, natural history references, magazines, the internet, everywhere we can to get the information we need to know more about what we are photographing and seeing. When we arrive, we check out the visitor centers and information signs, and talk to rangers and locals for more information. Having a shooting plan and a time frame to accomplish it in is very important. It keeps us motivated and on track. There is no time to lose if every moment is filled. Advance planning will trigger the imagination when you need a little kick in the hindquarters.
Do It Different or Better
Part of our motivation comes from trying to do what no one has done before, or from trying to do it better than it has been done before. Prior to leaving on a photographic trip, we prepare by studying the area and various guide books. We will also look at photographs and picture books so we know what other photographers have done at that location. Knowing what is available to photograph, we make our own plans and lists of subjects, time, and places. This subject would be better in afternoon light, visit this waterfall on a cloudy day, look for fog in the valley as the sun rises. This list keeps us motivated to go on working and trying, because we have a plan. If we find ourselves distracted by obligations or the logistics of traveling, we review the list and refocus our goals.
Don’t be afraid to check out stock agency images or the web pages of local photographers. See what they’ve done and think about how you can do better. It’s not about standing in their footsteps (or tripod holes) to duplicate their work, it is about learning how others see the location and subjects, and finding something new and different. The more you familiarize yourself with what has “gone before”, the less inclined you are to repeat it, and the more incentive you have to be greater.
Check out our article on Hiring Yourself to help keep you motivated.