Capturing The Perfect Shot

| July 11, 2017

Justin Patchin

Download audio

Sometimes we can plan and plan and plan… and things still don’t work out. Justin Patchin set out with his camera to make the perfect shot… but things didn’t go quite as he expected.

I’m running late. By the time I show up, the sun has already sunk beneath the horizon. Despite my best intentions, it appears I have missed the opportunity I was hoping for.

I’ve always loved sunsets, but I only recently discovered a joy in photographing them to preserve and share with others. On this evening I hike to a spot on the Eau Claire River to capture the sun setting over a meandering section of the stream. I came across this place previously while boating and thought it’d be an interesting location to take a picture. Though I didn’t realize at the time what it would take to get there by foot.

To reach the river, I descend a ski-slope-steep hill with uneven terrain and weave through waist-high weeds beneath a powerline. So many potential pitfalls: several hundred thousand volts above, and who-knows-what lurking below.

It takes several minutes for me to negotiate the cliff. At the bottom, I depart the powerline clearing and head toward the sun already set. Between me and the river is a forest of mature oaks. I walk warily in the dimness of the thick canopy for awhile before arriving at my destination: a small field of purple crown vetch on the riverbank.

A beautiful but invasive species, I envisioned the lavender flowers playing well with the blue water and golden sky. I had intended to arrive much earlier: to give myself time to fully explore the spot to determine the perfect place to situate the camera for the best possible shot.  

But I don’t. Instead, I hastily plop the tripod amid the flowering weeds and point the camera to the west. It appears to be an average Western Wisconsin sunset; the kind I could see on any given gas station postcard. White whispy clouds and only a faint hint of color in the sky. Not exactly what I had in mind and hardly worth the effort to get here.   

I consider abandoning the shot altogether but since I’ve come this far, I force myself to snap a few photos. Usually when photographing sunsets I’ll take dozens--maybe even hundreds--of frames with different settings and varying compositions. I’m still relatively new at this, so I need to experiment to see what works. Tonight, though, I’m tired and frustrated and the mosquitos are attacking me from all directions. To make matters worse, when I look to my feet to readjust my footing, I notice that I have set up on a patch of poison ivy.

So after only a few minutes on site, I pack up my gear and head for the hill – dreading the return trip through the woods and weeds, in the near dark.

When I get home, I upload the images to my computer, and am amazed that they turned out pretty well. Much better than I had thought. The colors pop in a way that I couldn’t fully appreciate when I was in the moment. And while I’m still itching from the ivy and insects, I learned to pause in the instant to fully take in what is before me. An important lesson that’ll probably take more time to sink in.

A year later I’ll return to this spot to improve upon the photo. But it won’t be as good. It never is. 

Tags: photography / crown vetch / Eau Claire River / poison ivy