How Long Did You Wait?

I have had people ask me, and I have asked others, about the waiting process to get just the right settings for a photograph. Some situations required one to wait for many hours to get just the right environment for a shot and other times they just seem to happen. It doesn’t hurt to be lucky, but it certainly helps to have your equipment ready and be patient when necessary. No one ran across a situation where everything was perfect and got a spectacular photograph without having their camera equipment with them. You do have to be prepared and ready to take that photograph no matter when the situation occurs.

I will show two extremely different examples in this post. One was planned out, I drove over an hour to get there, and then waited for almost three hours before everything lined up right. The other seemed to just present itself to me and took about 5 minutes. I like both photographs equally as well.


The first example is a photograph I took of the old Franklin County Sugar Company just outside of Preston, Idaho. I had driven past this building hundreds of times and always said to myself I should shoot it sometime. Sometime never came and years had past without any shots of that building.

One day I was driving to Idaho Falls for a photo job and was going up a day early, so I was not in a rush. I was noticing the sky and clouds on my drive as the clouds seemed to paint an interesting pattern in the sky. I then drove past the Sugar Company building and saw a fabulous scene.

I mention that I drove past the building and was almost to Preston when I began to question my judgement for not stopping. I was in no hurry and I doubted I would ever see a scene like that again in my lifetime. I finally decided it would be stupid of me not to stop, so I proceeded to turn the car around and go back.

I arrived at the building to see how dramatic the clouds were and how perfect the scene was over the building. I shot the building for about 20 minutes before I proceeded on to Idaho Falls. My favorite shot was taken in the first few minutes. I spent far greater time processing the photo to get it just how I saw it at the location than all of the time shooting.

This is an example of me having my gear with me and having the situation develop right in front of me. I was on my way to a photo job to begin with, so I had a large selection of equipment in my car. I did have several pieces of equipment that weren’t being used for the sports shoot however and those items did come in handy — like my tripod and a wide angle lens.


The example of the Tony Grove photo is one of careful planning and patience. I had waited until August for this shot and planned out how I wanted to approach the shot. I knew I needed the right time of day and I wanted clouds for the shot. I had been watching the weather for the right day and I finally had the weather I needed after waiting for almost two weeks. I began my journey to Tony Grove at about 6:30 a.m. so that I would be at the South end of the lake by about 8:30 in the morning.

I arrived at the lake early and made my way to the location I had envisioned for the shot. Everything was set up and ready to go by about 8:30 just as I planned. There were a few clouds but not nearly as many as I had seen in the canyon on the way to the lake. As I had made my way up the road to the lake, the clouds thinned out. At least there were some clouds, most days I had tried this shot were cloud free and I didn’t want to have to add clouds in post-production.

There were several things I was looking for on this particular attempt. I didn’t want cows. I had tried this shot one other time and there was a herd of cattle along the trail on the West side of the lake. I had never seen cattle there before, so it just didn’t look right to have cattle in the shot. I also wanted to avoid having people on the trail. It was surprising how many people walk that trail in the mornings. This particular day was no different. I definitely wanted the lake to be completely smooth, that is one reason I was there so early in the morning.

It took about 30 minutes of waiting before the trail wasn’t completely spotted with people. It seemed like every time the trail was clear a breeze came up and caused ripples across the lake or there ended up being no clouds in the sky. It was becoming frustrating until I could see everything lining up perfecting for the shot.

The wind had died down and the lake was smooth as glass. Clouds had rolled in and were lining up perfectly, as though I had placed them in specific locations just for this photograph. The shot was a panorama and would take 9 total photographs. I had already experimented with that as I was waiting. Nine vertical photographs to give me the size I wanted for the final print.

I had determined that it took me about 1 minute to get the entire sequence and I liked to do it twice if possible, just to make sure I had the correct shots. I started the process and heard a dog bark very close by as I was taking the photo. Just then I saw two large dogs jump in the water directly in front of my position. A lady was walking with her dogs and had turned them loose so they could play in the water. The clouds were perfect, the lighting was perfect, the trail was clear on the West side, and now the water had huge ripples and two dogs in the frame.

This was one situation that I was not expecting as I was standing within 20 yards of a large sign that said pets must be on leashes. So now my lake wasn’t smooth and the lady and dogs would be some time getting around the lake as they were not more than half way around the lake at this point. Even if the dogs didn’t get in the water any more, they would be along the trail for about 10 to 15 minutes. My perfect shot was gone in the blink of an eye.

I didn’t give up but it took almost 40 more minutes before the lake was smooth and no one was on the trail. The clouds never did return to the quantity I desired, but I did get some clouds. The shot ended up looking very close to what I had planned, but it took much longer than I had planned. One thing I did notice when I got back to my car in the parking lot, the clouds were plentiful looking the opposite direction from where I had been all morning. That wouldn’t help this shot, but I did find where all the clouds were that I had seen that day on my way up the canyon. It turned out to be a very cloudy day — everywhere except at Tony Grove looking North!