Sometimes it just takes one.

By January 5, 2014Animals, Deserts, Nevada, Photos

Picture: Desert Bighorn sheep at Valley of Fire State Park, near Las Vegas, Nevada

Image: Desert Bighorn sheep at Valley of Fire State Park, near Las Vegas, Nevada

This is one of the images I included on my last post, my top photos of 2013. Now granted, I don’t actually consider this a super-great image. Sure, it’s a nice image, maybe even a very nice image. The reason it made my list for top shots of 2013 is based more on emotional attachment than pure, unabashed photographic quality.

You see, this image was taken on the first morning of my recent trip to the southwest corner of Utah. On this particular morning, I wound up witnessing the amazing glow of a cloud-filled pinkish-red desert sky sunrise. I have no photos of that amazing sunrise because I witnessed the glow while spending that entire part of the morning sitting inside an outhouse bathroom at Valley of Fire State Park. I was suffering intense intestinal distress thanks to an overly rich dinner the night before. My buddy, who was nice enough to treat me to dinner at what would be my first (& last) visit to The Cheesecake Factory while we were passing through Las Vegas, got some great pictures that morning. By the time the sunrise colors had totally faded to a dull overcast gray, I finally managed to emerge from the outhouse, … slowly.

I figured my morning was completely shot as far as photography was concerned. We hopped into our trucks and drove off to a different area of the park to make our breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. The lighting wasn’t great, and I sat and chatted with my buddy while he set up a time-lapse. Then, while he was engaged setting up his shot, I happened to glance over and see a few Bighorn sheep. Having never gotten a good shot of these animals before, I quickly grabbed my 80-400mm zoom and managed to get off a few frames as the small herd scampered across the rocks, quickly moving away from where we were. Two of the sheep stopped for just a brief moment when I manage to get this frame. I knew the moment I pressed the shutter that my once-ruined morning shoot had suddenly been salvaged with the click of a single frame.

Sometimes as photographers we head out the door only to get totally skunked, coming home with nothing good at all. It’s part of the territory, and we accept that. We may not like those times. We may just shrug our shoulders, throw up our hands, and resign ourselves to our poor luck. That’s just the way it is. But it’s also true that sometimes all it takes is just getting one single, good frame to turn what would otherwise have been a dismal failure into a success. For me, on this day, this was that shot.

If you have a similar story where one good shot saved the day, I’d love to hear about it. If you’d be willing to share your story in the comments, please feel free to include a link to the photo if you have it posted online somewhere.

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Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Steve Cole says:

    Certainly a story I can definitely relate with (maybe not the Cheesecake Factory part). I think quite often we head out on an outing visualizing or expecting things to go a certain way and then end up adapting to what actually happens. In my own world, I think back to a particular sunset hike into Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park several years ago. I convinced a friend to join me (his first visit to this area of the park) and everything was going well until we actually got to Spray Park.

    Clouds closed in and all but obscured the mountain as the golden hour arrived. Dejected, we sat down and ate some food before resigning ourselves to what could have been. In a matter of 5 minutes, the clouds parted and cleared out at the most opportune moment. With almost no one around, we had the entire meadows to ourselves for the rest of sunset. A very memorable moment and now I kind of regard my friend as a “good luck” charm! I wrote up my outing on my blog:


  • Greg Russell says:

    Hi, Gary. I can completely relate. A few years ago, a friend and I headed out to Joshua Tree NP on an August afternoon when the thunderstorm activity was particularly good. As we hoped, we were treated to an amazing sunset (#5 in my 2010 favorite images):

    After sunset, my friend who is primarily a wildlife photographer wanted to cruise the roads of the park looking for snakes that might come out after sunset. We found something less expected: poorwills. Everywhere. It turns out that if you approach them in the car slowly, you can use the headlights for illumination and get fairly good images of them. You just have to remember to keep the engine running while you are doing this…although I thought I knew this, headlights drain the car’s battery…fast.

    So, we were stuck. There isn’t much traffic in JTNP in August. Finally a car drove by about 11pm and we flagged it down. They didn’t have jumper cables (I didn’t either…party foul #2 of the evening), but they called our wives when they got into 29 Palms. My friend’s wife called AAA, and we ended up getting home about 3am. Lessons learned.

    The amazing sunset and poorwills more than made up for the ignorant mistakes I made that night.

    Poorwill images here:

  • Richard Wong says:

    Wear Depends next time, Gary, because you never know when a great sunrise might happen. 🙂 Nice consolation though. Not sure I’ve ever redeemed myself from a lost opportunity. Hard to let them go.

  • Aaron Bates says:

    That has certainly happened to me, more than once. Okay, maybe not the Cheesecake Factory incident, but I can also relate! I’ve learned to just say “Eh, I’ll get the shot I’m looking for soon”, because over the years I’ve found that I could. I’ve also learned that if a certain scene isn’t quite to my liking — whether it’s from poor light, weather conditions, etc. — to turn my eye to a different subject in the area and see what I can get while I’m there… And sometimes I surprise myself.

    That’s what happened last September when I went out to shoot a brilliant sunset developing over downtown Austin. I knew of a couple locations that would be perfect to capture this sunset while including Austin landmarks in the frame as well. As I parked and headed to my spot, the light was quickly changing (of course) and at that moment, I knew I wasn’t going to get the shot I hoped for. The sunset faded quickly but I noticed an electrical storm brewing over the hills just west of downtown. I had already walked back to my car feeling dejected, but quickly decided to make my way to an adjacent bridge (over the Colorado River that flows through downtown, known as Lady Bird Lake) to try and capture some lightning strikes. I stood there for a while with the shutter open at 15-20 seconds each frame, and I managed to capture several strikes, the downpour and the intensifying storm! The dying light still lit the clouds beautifully and I was very pleased with the final image (Flickr link below).

    Hey, so I didn’t get that great sunset shot I had my heart set on, but you never know what you can capture if you just hang around a while longer!

    – Aaron

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