Shoot first, setup tripod later

I arrived in Zion National Park, Utah on Sunday with my colleague Christine Hauber ahead of our 2014 Zion Fall Foliage Photo Workshop a few days ago under cloudy skies and a slight drizzle less than an hour of when the sun would be setting. By the looks of it there wasn’t going to be a sunset that night, but the clouds hanging low over the Watchman were still very striking and photogenic.

Hard to tell with this cloud cover that within 45 minutes a striking sunset will occur.

Hard to tell with this cloud cover that within 45 minutes a striking sunset will occur.

As we were parking my RV at the campground and removing her car from the dolly we noticed the clouds were starting to break – there was going to be a sunset this evening after all – and it was going to be impressive.

We threw the cameras and dogs in the car and quickly drove to a pullout along Rt. 9 just before the famous Watchman Bridge. My goal was to get down to the river’s edge to get this amazing light reflected off the river.

Unfortunately by the time I got down to the river’s edge, got the tripod all set up and camera mounted on it, the magic was fading. I returned to the campground feeling dejected. I missed the shot by no more than 15 minutes.

When I was a photojournalist (a career I had for 17 years) one thing I learned right away was to “shoot first, ask questions later”. Whenever I was approaching a volatile scene, as I was walking towards it I was taking photos. I did this to cover my butt and make sure I at least had a photo for the paper. News scenes can change rapidly, access can be prohibited, and returning to the paper without a photo was not an option.

As I was approaching the river that evening trying to make it down to it in time, my photojournalist instincts kicked in and I fired off a shot – just one. My Canon 24-70mm lens was on my Sony a7R camera and I hand-held the camera, manually focused and barely took a look at my exposure settings, fired off that one shot, and continued down to the river.

This is the result of that one shot.

Watchman-in-Clouds-at-Sunset-1400

“Watchman in Clouds at Sunset”
Zion National Park, Utah

The original RAW file was underexposed by a couple stops. It was shot at ISO 50 (set during a previous photo shoot – I didn’t bother changing it for the one shot) at 1/125s at f4.5, and my manual focusing was spot on.

Here is how the original RAW file looked in Capture One Pro prior to enhancement.

Here is how the original RAW file looked in Capture One Pro prior to enhancement.

A little work spent in Capture One Pro and Perfect Photo Suite 9 enhancing the shot gave me something when I feared I had nothing. It wasn’t the shot I necessarily wanted, but it was one that I am happy with and one that would look great in a print on the wall.

Next time you are approaching a scene when the light is changing fast, make sure to get a couple shots before you get that tripod set up. It may be the only shots you get.

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