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Great Outdoor Photography - you just need a little luck sometimes

Ring, ring, ring - "hello."  "Hi, my name is Harry, I love your photographs, I'm planning a trip in July to photograph wildlife, can you tell me where is a good place to find mountain goats?"  My first reaction is usually a deep sigh, followed by, "July is not a good time to photograph mountain goats," to which I usually hear, "well, it's the only time I can go." What does it take, time and again, to create great outdoor photographs? I'm not talking about a few good shots over years of shooting, I'm talking about creating consistently good outdoor photographs. Is it location, your shooting skills, time of day, or time of year? I would argue that all of those things are factors, but over time, I've found that three elements are often present in consistently great outdoor photography.

These may surprise you. The three things that are more or less present in consistently crafting great outdoor photographs are, proper planning, plenty of perseverance, and a little bit of luck. Let me explain.

Planning - always do your homework. Find out as much about the local conditions, from one year to the next as you can. For example, study the light angles, seasonal variations, area closures, limits to access, condition of your subject, etc., You might also find out who's the best photographer in the region and take a look at their work. There are photographs that I know are captured during a certain season, or month - find out the details before you plan that trip. Here's an example.

Which photograph of a mountain goat to you think would land on the cover of a magazine - the long white haired one in the rocks one on the cover of Sports Afield Magazine, or shaggy one below?

mountain goat


mountain goat photographed in late spring Notice the hair falling out - not a very useful image and far less attractive than the one on the cover of Sports Afield Magazine.

Perseverance - Seldom to I go to a location one time and leave satisfied that I captured a great outdoor photograph. In fact, I almost always needs some time to scout and a second, third, fourth trip is usually in order. I'm almost always create usable images on my first time to a new place, but once I learn the details of the light and the angles, I will continuously produce better outdoor photographs.

Luck - There is an old saying, "I'd rather be lucky than good."  Well, you need to be both. I've come home from a two week trip and had the photographs from the first day be the keepers and other times, I've had the photographs from the last day be the keepers. The difference was I was there and I got lucky to catch the "action," or the "drama," just right. I call it luck because often times we don't control, nor can we predict down to the day or the hour when the "stars will align," and we get the conditions that allow us to produce great outdoor photographs. You should not rely on luck, but you do have to admit, some is good now and then!

There are many things within our control, but at the end of the day, you find consistently great outdoor photographs where planning and perseverance meet with a little luck. By coupling proper planning, and perseverance, and finding a little luck you'll produce more great outdoor photographs.

Good luck,

Tony Bynum

Montana Photographer