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Monday, August 1, 2011

Nature's a Moving Target; Shoot Now or Forever Hold Your Peace


     I used to umpire baseball, an avocation that strongly encourages decisiveness. Good umpires are taught to pause a second to process what they've seen before emphatically signaling their decisions.
     Those who waver are lost. They become targets of abuse from baseball players, coaches and fans, all of whom aren't known for their empathy and level-headed civility.
     I thought umpiring required split-second action, but it's kids' play compared to photographing nature. The basic law is this: What you see now won't be what you see later. Clouds, the sun, birds, shadows etc. are constantly moving, so the photo you see at 7 a.m. probably won't be there at 7:01. A version of it maybe, just not the industrial-strength highlight you saw 60 seconds earlier.
     I took the river-bottom route to work today and saw a cloud that had nestled between a valley and a warehouse. The sun was just at the right angle and a line of heavy-duty utility poles ran through the low-lying cloud. Potentially, a very cool photo, but I hesitated, drove by and lost it.
     I'm not really sure how the terms "obsessive" and "compulsive" differ in meaning, but I have one or both and don't easily give up on things, even lost causes. So I pulled my camera out of the bag and made the basic settings, certain that I'd see another well-lit, low-lying cloud.
     It didn't happen. What I did find was the top photo, a grain-storage building framed by a cloud, soybeans and a hill (most likely a bluff from a previous Missouri River channel). It's not a bad photo, just not as good as the one I didn't pump out (that's an umpiring reference to a called third strike, a big moment for "blue").
     The shot of the river-bottom farm (above, left) that's framed by some lacy roadside foliage was born of the same photographic regret. A nice enough shot; just not the big prize!
     The silver lining to the "shoot now, forever hold your peace" manifesto is this: just because you missed a photo once, doesn't mean something as good or better won't pop up again. The idea is to be ready when it does. It's not a bad idea, either, to put it all in perspective. Missing a photo isn't the end of the world.
     In one respect, there isn't much of a parallel between missing a photographic moment and umpiring. In baseball, when you kick a call it's kicked forever – and no one forgives you. You stand out there and take the abuse in front of everyone. In photography, it's more of a private thing. No one yells at you but yourself. Hey shutterbug, get your head in the game!


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