It Won’t Be There Tomorrow

As nature photographers we’re out there more often than most folks and in position to see image possibilities. But do we act on these possibilities? Yes and no. It depends on your situation at that moment. Are you tired and headed back to the barn? Maybe you think you’ll be back tomorrow and at that time you’ll get the shot. Do you have another destination in mind, and stopping is not an option? We’ve all had a reason (excuse) for not acting upon a visual calling of the moment.

In my 50 plus years of photography I have images that exist because I stopped to act, and only memories of those I wished I had stopped to capture. On the “acting” side I submit this series of images taken in February a few years ago near the end of Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. I noticed a small stream cutting through the snow a ways from the road. I found a place to park my vehicle and trudged through knee-high snow to observe a beautiful miniature waterway with lattices of ice.

A small stream cuts through the snow in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone NP. Three images taken with a Canon 90mm Tilt/Shift lens and composited in Photoshop.

Why did I stop? I shouldn’t have. I was on my way out of the park at the end of a week of winter photography; my wife was in the van coming down with pneumonia and ready to head home; my wrist was incredibly sore and aching (I didn’t know it was actually broken from a motorcycle crash that happened a few days before I left for Yellowstone); and I was tired from dealing with freezing temperatures during the previous week. To top it off, my father had passed away just as I arrived in Yellowstone the previous week and I’d traveled to the funeral and back. Leaving my nice warm van was a difficult decision. As you can see, I had every reason to just keep on driving, but I didn’t. It was a good lesson in acting on the possibilities, as I’ve gone to that same location several times since to find . . . nothing. The stream was either buried in snow or non-existent. If I hadn’t photographed that day, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity, these images, and a great memory.

Now, when I come across a photographic opportunity and I just don’t feel like acting upon it, I remember that day in Yellowstone. So I stop and take a better look, and often enough it pays off. Remember, it won’t be there tomorrow, at least not the way it is at this moment that’s calling to you.

The trick is to have white snow with detail.
90mm T/S at 1/8 sec and f/22 with 100 ISO.
90mm Canon T/S 1/4 sec and f/16, ISO 100
90mm Canon T/S at 1/6 sec and f/16, ISO 100
180mm Canon macro at .3 sec and f/22, ISO 100

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.


    Thanks, Mr. Lepp! One other note from an enthusiast of “seizing in the moment” with camera in hand. Make sure your clothing and shoes are the correct ones for the situation. Snow and ice can create the perfect conditions for slippage, says the woman who rushed to the river with the correct camera gear, but didn’t change her shoes from the uggs type to the snow boot type. After my fall crushing my hand, I got a few images and learned lots from my images of ice on the river in early morning cloudy light. So, take it from me, pause and assess not only camera gear (but don’t forget in excited haste) to check for proper clothing, too…Have fun shooting, because as you say, Mr. Lepp, it won’t be there tomorrow.

    All of those situations would leave anybody in a terrible funk.

    I wish that I drove all the time with my camera on the console. I’ve seen some beautiful pastel sunrises and said “Darn! I wish I had my camera with me!” Once, I was driving home and saw a Sundog; that doesn’t happen that often. I should get a second camera body to have one loaded with color and the other loaded with B&W.

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