Posted by: kerryl29 | April 29, 2019

You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play

Back in the film era, there was an adage—really, something between a saying and a mantra—that went like this:  f/8 and be there.  It was, in essence, a statement that suggested that, when it came to getting “the shot,” the technicals were a whole lot less important than being in position when the opportunity arose.  (The “f/8” part referred to the presumed optimal aperture setting for most situations and most lenses.)

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

We’re now more than a decade into a mature digital age of photography, but the meaning behind the phrase still applies today, even if we’ve effectively left the analog age of film in the rearview mirror.  In fact, if anything, the technical nuances of photography have become less and less of an impediment to the successful image making process with each passing year.  The key has always been recognizing a good photo opportunity and being in position to take advantage of it.

(It seems obvious—and perhaps it is—but I can’t tell you how many photographers I know who routinely miss potentially great chances simply because they didn’t feel like getting up early.)

Sunrise, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I relived this experience on numerous occasions during my 2014 autumn trip to the Canadian Rockies.  Time and again, after identifying a possible combination of subject and light, I put myself in the presence of the subject and hoped for the light.  Sometimes it came and sometimes it didn’t, but when it did…I was there to take advantage of it.  I wasn’t necessarily shooting with an aperture of f/8, but the principle remained.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Case in point: on September 27, 2014 I got up more than an hour before sunrise.  My goal was to shoot at daybreak at Patricia Lake, in Jasper National Park.  The problem? Well, there were several.  The first was that I hadn’t had the opportunity to scout the location.  I had arrived at Jasper after dark the night before.  I’d never set eyes on Patricia Lake—I wasn’t even truly familiar with the route to get there, and I was going to have to find my way in the dark of the pre-dawn morning.  I was also going to have to try to find a pleasing composition in less than ideal light.  The other issue was the weather forecast—it was expected to be a mostly cloudy morning.  Cloud cover was projected at 80-90% at sunrise.  I knew all of this the night before.

The “easy” thing to do would have been to sleep in.  I could scout the location in the light of day and come back, well-armed (so to speak) the next morning when the conditions were expected to be better.  After all, I’d be on site for the next four days.

Of course, you know I didn’t sleep in.  But if it sounds as though I’m patting myself on the back, or puffing my chest out, I’m not.  (If anything, this is a lot closer to an admission of insanity than bragging.)  The forecast wasn’t for pouring down rain (there was, in fact, essentially no chance of precipitation).

I found my way to the lake, wandered down to the shore and, in the gray of dawn, found what looked like a good spot, and waited.  It didn’t look promising.  As the light came up, I saw a bank of low clouds covering up Pyramid Mountain.  But I hung around, just to see if something good might happen.

Shortly after sunrise, I was rewarded.  For about 15 minutes, a gap in the cloud bank revealed the peak, bathed in beautiful light.  For about two of those minutes, the clouds lit up.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I’ve been through enough experiences to know that special things can happen even when the odds are long.  I didn’t fly 2000 miles to “sleep in.”  This is what you do when the photograph really matters to you—as it did to me on this day:  you give yourself a chance.

F/8 and be there.

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado



  1. You are definitely giving yourself a chance not just to get a shot, but potentially a great shot that others will have missed. And definitely I subscribe to the attitude that if you’ve made the commitment to get yourself somewhere, take full advantage of the opportunities. You can sleep when you get home.

    • Very well said. Thanks, Ellen.

  2. That is so true, the early bird gets the worm. At a time when I was dependent on others and they were late sleepers, we missed the bounty I am itching to go to Jasper and these two photos fuel the fire, although there will still be a lot of snow at this time. After a shoot like a couple of days ago, indoors with fluorescent light, I set my camera to f8 400 ISO and auto or daylight white balance, so when I next go outside with camera, I will be ready to get whatever presents itself, without having to make any adjustments at first. I learned the hard way, by missing some special moments by not having my camera set to something remotely related to what was needed. Arrrrgh, so frustrating!

    • Thanks, Jane.

      It’s a very good idea, IMO, to have a set of default settings for your camera and always make a point of returning to them at the end of every photo session. I think just about everyone has a story about photographing birds in flight (or something) in low light, necessitating a 3200 or 6400 ISO setting, and forgetting to reset things, then going out the next day and all of their images are made at a ridiculously high ISO. The key is making this part of muscle memory…check the settings every time you shut off the camera and, before you know it, it’ll be second nature.

  3. Haha! I bet I know someone you had in mind when you wrote this! I would likely be better at STAYING UP for a sunrise than getting my hibernating butt out of bed at the crack of dawn. 😴

    • I didn’t have anyone specific in mind…but, you know yourself better than I do. 🙂

  4. I like these comments, and will try to take heed before heading out, sleepy eyed at 3 AM again, only to get highly frustrated at fumbling around in the dark. Great 👍🏾 captures. M 😉

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, there are no guarantees…other than the fact that you definitely won’t make any memorable images by sleeping in. 🙂

  5. Truly inspiring. I’ve made so many promises, but life always gets in the way. But that’s just an excuse.

    • Thanks!

      Re excuses…as long as you’re not fooling yourself, it sounds as though you’re in good shape.

  6. Kerry, the first shot (Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument) is stunningly abstract. All of your work is so beautiful and so inspirational to someone who finds she likes “sleeping in” a little too much. OK, I’m inspired to get up earlier this week to capture the morning light of the garden 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. Here’s hoping that garden light is particularly sweet in the mornings of this coming week.

      • Here’s hoping, but the forecast is for thunderstorms all week!

        • I wish you at least one dry morning.

  7. nice post! amazing photos. 🙂 new to the blogging world

  8. Awesome reflections!

  9. […] It was another lesson in simply being there. […]

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