Excuses: Why You Don’t Make the Photo!

Reflection photo of four Black-necked Stilts walking in a flooded field by Noella Ballenger.
Four Black-necked Stilts walking in a flooded field.
If I had waited this composition would not have occurred again.

Get some tips on what can make you stop to get great photos.

Some time ago, I was traveling with a friend who was visiting from Australia. We began talking about the excuses we’ve come up with for not taking an image. Some of them were predictable, but others were more creative. 

The excuse I personally use most often is that there’s probably a waterfall or mountain just around the bend that will be better, and then I’ll stop. (After all these years of working as a professional photographer, I still come up with that one.)

Reflection photo of mirrored buildings of an office building by Noella Ballenger.
Reflections in the mirror finishes of office buildings. Make the image while you can!

Other uninspired favorites include the following:

~ I’ll be back on another day and do it then.

~ The light isn’t quite right.

~ I really need to check into the motel or stop for gas.

~ I’m not in a hurry, but going five miles out of my way isn’t really practical.

~ I’ll catch it on the way back.

~ I don’t feel creative today.

I overhear more unusual excuses in my workshops. Some of these gems include the following:

~ I didn’t plan on making more that many photo today – not enough time.

~ My camera’s in the trunk and it’s too much trouble to stop and get out to get it.

~ I don’t have the right lens -it’s at home.

Our excuses for not making photos are ways we use to avoid committing ourselves to taking a chance. For example, film used to be the cheapest equipment taken on trips and in the age of digital cameras, the rationales based on film expense no longer work well—unless we invent some lame fear of running out of electricity!

Silhousette of a lone tree growing out of rocks in early dawn at Zion National Park by Noella Ballenger.
A lone tree silhouetted in the early dawn sky in Zion National Park.
If I would have kept walking it would have been missed,
since we didn’t pass by this area again.

Here are some definite techniques you can use to change your thinking and allow yourself to stop for waterfalls, rainbows, and scenes that beacon:

1. Think ahead and plan for maximum opportunities. My cameras are always cleaned and checked for battery strength the night before I leave on a trip. Extra memory cards and chargers are packed. On the eve of one of my jaunts, I was in bed drifting off when I realized that I’d need my flash the next day, and I hadn’t checked the unit. I got out of bed and was glad I did. It had been a while since its last use, and one battery had started to leak. I would’ve been out of luck if I hadn’t spent ten minutes checking, cleaning the leads, and replacing the batteries.

2. Be prepared. Your camera should ride next to you in the car or at least be readily available. I was amazed during one of my past photo workshops that none of the people I was traveling with had their cameras loaded or available. They didn’t have an inkling of exposure (that can be guessed at in anticipation). Golden opportunities can be missed because failing to be alert and prepared.

3. Insist on taking the time to stop or wander off the beaten path.  It isn’t always easy to make yourself stop or go back for that special moment, but when you don’t, the missed image will tend to stay in your head and bother you. I have any number of would be photos that I’m still kicking myself for not making. I was there, they were there, and I walked away. Not a good thing to do.

4. Make that photo! Even if the light will probably get better or you’ll find that special waterfall just around the bend, go ahead and make this one. You’ll feel wonderful if it comes out great … or if it turns out to be the one and only great scene you find.

5. Make your equipment work for you.  If you didn’t take the right lens, learn to get the maximum out of the equipment you did take. Move a little closer or change the angle you’re using to improve the shot. You might not be able to capture the image you envision, but if you work at it, you might create something even better. And, if your camera totally fails, carry a simple point-and-shoot or disposable camera and make it work.

6. Creativity is a process; just begin to do something.  “I don’t feel creative today” is one of my standby excuses. I finally realized that I needed to identify some life themes to help me begin. Once at work, I’d just keep going. Some of the themes I use are water, reflections, weeds, lines, and the color red. If I become blocked and find myself using my creativity excuse, I drag out one of my list of life themes and begin to work on them. Pretty soon, I begin to see everything more creatively. After that, I drop the theme and keep going. 

Backlighting behind a dandelion at Lake Tahoe by Noella Ballenger.

“I am sure that there will be other dandelions in better positions up ahead”.

I was in the Lake Tahoe area and the dandelions there are large and lovely. I saw this one right next to a dirt road and kept on driving. The light was almost ready to drop behind the distant mountains. I just knew I could find another, better one up ahead … or even tomorrow. When I finally realized what I was doing, I did a U-turn and stopped to photograph this particular dandelion just as the sun was dropping behind the mountain.

Early morning golden light and fog on path in the woods in Germany by Noella Ballenger.

“It is foggy and cold and I really don’t want to get out of bed this morning”.

This seems to be one of my favorite excuses. I was staying with a cousin in southern Germany and the night before I said I needed a “nature fix” and some time alone on a country road. So he drew a small map for me, and I said I would be back by breakfast. The next morning my alarm went off and I looked out the window. It was dark. There was a deep fog and gloomy weather. I didn’t want to appear the “wimp” so my ego forced me out of bed and into the car, muttering and fussing all the while. I followed his map for a bit and noticed as I climbed a hill that the mist was lifting. Then I saw this small dirt path that disappeared into the forest. Long story made short … I came back closer to lunch with some really great images.

Backlighting on a little girl playing in the sprinklers by Noella Ballenger.

“No, I really don’t need to have the camera ready to go. There isn’t too much to see here”.

While visiting some friends on a farm one hot summer day, I tucked my camera under a couple of blankets in the car and went into the house to talk. Suddenly, I looked out the window and raced out to the car. I must have looked the fool as I began to toss stuff out of the car and on to the ground. Finally, I found my camera and raced over to grab a couple of shots of their grandchild running through the sprinklers. The combination of light and action didn’t last long, but it was worth it. Next time I vowed to stay prepared.

There are as many flimsy rationales for not photographing as there are photographers. You probably have some special ones of your own. Break out of inertia and just begin. Make yourself stop and look around, use life themes, and don’t allow yourself to use elaborate excuses. Stay honest to your best, most creative self. No more excuses… just get out there and create great photos!

by Noella Ballenger

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