by Gary W. Stanley
Back in November, Pam (my significant other) and I were visiting with my mother and brother up in northern Canada. My mother had decided to take an afternoon nap, so I asked Kevin if he would like to go with Pam and I up into the park. Kevin enjoys photography as a hobby, so he said sure. LaVerendrye Provincial Park is huge, so we usually just stick to the main road looking for Moose and landscape shots. There is also a very nice waterfall.
I think we were just a little stir crazy because the sky was overcast, there wasn’t much snow on the ground and we just wanted to get out for a while. It was Pam’s first trip up into the park, so she was impressed with all the lakes and the chance of seeing a Moose. As we passed various lakes and ponds, we sort of stored them in our minds as a great place to shoot if the weather was better. We had traveled perhaps an hour or so with not much happening. I happened to glance back at the sky toward the south and could see that the light was changing. I looked at Pam and Kevin as I turned the car around and said: “Something great is going to happen if we can get there before dark.”
Kevin had a strange look on his face, but Pam knew what I was doing, she just didn’t know where. We raced down this open two-lane highway at a little above (okay, a lot above) the posted speed limit. “I saw this pond,” I muttered, as we continued at a modest speed (okay, a little faster than modest). We even passed a couple of those huge logging trucks along the way, you know the kind, they consider 65mph the breakdown lane. Finally we arrived at the spot, sliding to screeching halt at the side of the road, right in front of this pond and a gorgeous sunset.
As I popped the trunk lid, Pam and I frantically grabbed our tripods and cameras and were set up in under a minute. Kevin began scratching his head. I said, “Come on, Kev, it ain’t gonna last forever.” “What isn’t?” ” The Light! Man the Light!” I think he got off a few good shots as he watched Pam and I burn through a two or three rolls of film. “God, Fuji must love you,” he said. I could tell by the remark that Kevin had just received his first dose of what his mild-mannered brother does for a living.
This wasn’t quite as big of a shock to Jim McGee, who I teamed up with on a recent trip to Zion National Park. Contrary to what you might think, Managing Editors of photo magazines don’t get out much, so this was a nice break for Jim. We were blessed with some fabulous weather for most of the three days we were there. The day we visited Kolob Canyon, however, was less than ideal. It was overcast and kind of windy, but beautiful just the same. Kolob Canyon is a good hour north of the main portion of the park. We were set up there hoping the light would improve. I happened to look out toward the southwest and could see some breaks in the clouds (starting to sound familiar?). I said Jim, “Let’s head back, I think we can catch some good light.” Due to the higher traffic volume, and the fact that Jim was driving, I was in a more subdued state. That is until we reached highway 9.
“Jim, you better get a move on, it’s gonna happen.”
“What’s gonna happen?”
“The Light! Man the Light!”
Jim understood and picked up the pace. As we got closer to Mount Kinesava, I pointed to a spot just up ahead. We slid to a halt, Jim popped the trunk, and we were shooting in under a minute. “Wow! This is outrageous,” I said. The light was unbelievable. Mount Kinesava looked like it was made out of gold. We shot for about fifteen minutes, shooting some other subjects as well. As we headed back to Springdale for dinner, I looked over at Jim and said, “You know, I feel like those guys who chase tornadoes, what do they call them?” “Storm Chasers,” Jim says. I was quiet for a few seconds then my eyes opened wide, “That’s it, yes! Light Chasers – that’s what we are.” Upon arrival back home in New England, I immediately registered the name Light-Chasers as a web site.
I’m thankful to say it isn’t always like that. Sometimes I can photograph and be in complete control! The next two photos show that with some pre-planning, you can have a little more control over your shooting situation. In fact, I prefer it this way. Really! The balance of this article shows how to be a Light-Chaser, but in a more controlled fashion.
Recognizing the potential for good shooting light is an important part of the photographic process. Knowing what to do with that special light is the next step. When shooting wildlife for example, I usually coach my students through a mental checklist before the situation forces frantic, quick, thinking.
1. Do you have film in your camera? Sounds dumb I know, but it does happen.
2. Is the ISO set properly? You ran out of Velvia with the ISO set manually at 40, and just popped in some Fuji 400F Oops!
3. How are your batteries?
4. Are you using auto-focus or manual focus?
5. Do you have the right lens for the subject?
6. Did you forget to turn off your exposure compensation? Sound familiar?
7. Do you know where the sun is going to come up so you can be in position?
8. Is your camera still set at a small aperture from the landscape shooting we did last night? That won’t work on these Herons.
9. Is the camera on tripod and ready to go, or still in the bag? This Moose isn’t going to wait here all day.
10. Did you remember that the fog might fool your meter?
If a person has done a dry run before any panic sets in, they are far more likely to come away with the photographs they had hoped for. Then, no matter what the situation – hectic or not – you’ll be able to relax and truly enjoy nature the way it was meant to be. Well, this Light Chaser’s gotta run, that light in the harbor is looking good!