How bad do you want the shot?

These days everyone thinks they’re a photographer. Just get an iPhone and use Instagram with a sunflare, and–bang!–you are a photographer! A lot of people have a decent digital DSLR or high-pixel point and shoot. I don’t care who you are–if you shoot enough you will get a banger shot. The local news station has a monthly contest; most people who enter are amateurs, but the photos are of professional quality.

With the Internet you can learn about the mechanical aspects of any type of photography you want to shoot in minutes, compared to a lifetime in the film days. With all this info and so many people with cameras the digital age has produced some amazing photos, especially nighttime shots. No more metering flashes or guessing in the dark if it’s in focus or if the composition is O.K. I also feel it has produced a lot of piss-poor shots. I think it all started when some Hollywood director with cocaine withdrawal thought it was cool to shoot TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, etc., with shaky camera work. Now in photography you see sunflares, bad composition and over-sharpened, saturated photos. I guess anything goes nowadays.

The reason I’m writing this is not about all that; I feel if you want your photos to stand out you must do something that people haven’t seen or do the already-done very well. I think everyone has a dream shot in mind but don’t know how or if it can be done. Maybe because you don’t have the right gear, time, ideal  model or dedication or because your mommy wouldn’t approve.

My question to you is: how bad do you want the shot? If you don’t want it you will never get it. For me, when I want a shot I’ll try to get it no matter what’s in my way. I might have to try for years, take the shot over and over until it’s right. The photo could be on private or restricted property, so I ask myself how I am going to get in. I found out sometimes just asking is the best way. People are usually proud of their restricted area and like to show it off once you gain their trust. Being in the right place at the right time is the hardest part of photography. Scouting your location for the right season, time for the best light and unwanted visual pollution is the best way the get great photos. I know some of my best work has been when I thought the conditions weren’t quite right but I made myself go anyway. Not having the right equipment is the worst excuse: make what you have work for you. Once I had to make a water housing for this shot because it wouldn’t be practical to buy it for just one shot.

Here is a short story about a shot that took me 2 years, 4 different tries and over 50 attempts by my athletes to get. I had always known about Donut Falls from the short summer hikes to it. It is a shallow cave with a hole in the ceiling that water comes through, forming the falls. I dreamed that it would be cool to have someone jump over the opening as I stood behind the falls and shot through it. Sounds simple–Not! When I hiked to the falls in the early spring it was completely frozen over and covered with snow. So I probed the area carefully until I found the opening and dug out for a few hours. A couple of weeks went by, and I came back with Jamie Pierre and Kevin Brower to build the jump. I set up all my flashes and got in the cave. To get under the falls I built a platform with dead trees and branches, because of all the ice on the wall behind the falls. My next problem was I had no radio communication with the athletes because of the thundering pounding of the water. We tried throwing a snowball through the hole just before they went, which didn’t work well. We came back the next day with headphones for the radios, but it was still too loud. We tried a couple more times with no success. When I went home that night I felt defeated and wanted to quit. I got over it the next summer. I wanted that shot more than anything and thought: what could I do to make it work? My idea was to put the camera on a tripod and remote-fire it from the outside. That way I could stand there and get the timing over the hole right.

The next winter came, and I went up to the falls to start the whole process again. I went mid-season, because I wanted a lower volume of water going over the falls, so it wouldn’t be as loud and wet as the previous year. When I finally dug into the cave I noticed the water level was unusually high. I discovered there was an ice dam that formed a 3-foot high pool. I felt the shot wasn’t ever going to happen and almost gave up. Thankfully I brought a steel shovel that day, so I chipped away at the dam, and the water receded until about 8 to 12 inches remained. I got behind the falls and saw there was no way I was going to set up the tripod under the falls to shoot it remotely. I was over the shot. … Then I had a brilliant idea how to communicate with Jamie, so I got into position and started shooting. We started to get the results we wanted, but the grab wasn’t there, or the front-half or back-half of the ski was only showing. Finally we called it quits, but when I hiked down the trail that night I knew we could get the shot. The next day we went back, and on set-up I dropped a remote flash trigger in the water  and had to go under the falls to save it. Somehow it still worked. Completely soaked, I got into position and noticed the lens kept fogging up because it was a warmer day. I was so over it!! But I pushed through the fog problem, and Jamie did the jump about ten times and finally got it. On Jamie’s last jump he over-shot the landing, got off course and hit a snow pillow below, in which he did a flip and almost landed in the creek. He said it was one of the scariest things to happen to him skiing. I didn’t see it, but the spotter did and said it was crazy. When Jamie got back I told him we got it; he forgot about that incident quickly and the 40 hours we each put into it. When I descended the trail that night like a frozen popsicle, it was the best feeling in the world knowing that I got the shot.



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