The photo below was taken at 7 a.m. one morning when I had everything but photography on my mind.
I was thinking, instead, about our houseguest with whom I was about to take a morning power walk. I was thinking about the breakfast my husband had planned to make for us, and the fact that we didn't want to be late. I was thinking about the extra care I needed to give my dog, who recently had surgery. I was thinking about the unusual cold snap which had left frost everywhere. And I was thinking I should just quickly run out and grab the newspapers.
But when I did step outside, I took one look at the sky, and all other thoughts left my mind. Instead, I ran inside to grab my camera and tripod. I told our guest I'd be ready to head out in just a few moments, but first I needed to take a couple of pictures. "Really?" he said. "Now?"
Yes. Now. Because I have learned from painful experience that the best moment to capture any image is now - the moment I see it.
It embarrasses me to think about the many times I've seen an opportunity and thought - I'll get that shot another time. But even routine shots are never quite the same the next time. The sun does not rise and set in just the same place each day. The clouds are always different. The laughing child who was so exuberant and photogenic one afternoon is simply not in the mood the next day.
Many of the best travel photographers say they get their greatest shots because they return to the same place, again and again, in order to be present when those perfect moments occur.
Not long ago I was driving home from an afternoon of errands when I suddenly noticed the sky was filled with fabulous cloud formations. It seemed to me that they would be even better as the sun set, and so I felt I had plenty of time to head home, grab the camera, and drive to a nearby vantage point.
But I was utterly wrong. The clouds turned gray as the sun set. The vantage point was polluted with high tension lines. The beauty I had seen was not to be captured that day, at least not by me.
Of course it isn't possible to capture every opportunity. But my resolution going forward is to recognize the fact that each opportunity is unique, and that it may never again present itself in exactly that way. And so I must consciously make my choice. I can do my best to be prepared, and take full advantage of spontaneous opportunities. Or I can recognize that in certain circumstances, I'm simply not prepared or not able to photograph that day's gift.
The beauty of the universe around us is that there truly is an infinite array of possibilities. Each is unique, and will never be precisely repeated. That is both the glory and the frustration of photography.