Posted by: kerryl29 | November 18, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: The Bird in the Hand Theory of Landscape Photography

The following general scenario is something I have experienced many times:  I’m on a trail with a photographic end game in mind:  a waterfall, a beach, a scenic view, etc.  And, for one reason or another, I’m in a hurry to arrive at my appointed destination–I’m trying to maximize the light, I’m trying to beat the crowds, I’m hoping to beat the rain, you name it.  The point is I’ve got a subject in my mind and I’m double-timing it to get there.

And then, it happens.  My wandering eye catches sight of something interesting and I have to decide whether to stop and take a closer look…and possibly set up to photograph that interesting something.  Truth is, I usually at least stop and take a peek.  Sometimes I satisfy myself that, upon review, it’s not all that interesting after all.  Back to the trail as quickly as possible.  But sometimes I decide that it’s a photo-worthy subject and then I have to decide whether to interrupt my primary goal and photograph the newly discovered subject.

If I think the subject is mildly interesting and/or the conditions aren’t flattering for that subject at that time, I take note and consider stopping on the way back (assuming this is an out-and-back trail we’re talking about) or returning at some future time, if possible.

But if the subject is particularly interesting and the current conditions are conducive, I almost always take the time necessary to capture the moment because…well, because I’m never sure I’m going to get another chance.  If the moment at hand is meaningful and the opportunity is there, I want to make it count.

One such example came when I was hiking the Arethusa Falls Trail in Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire three autumns ago.  With the knowledge that the trail tends to get very crowded, particularly on weekends (it was a Saturday), and wanting to avoid conflicts with others at the falls, I hit the trail first thing in the morning.  My car was the first one in the lot so I knew that I wouldn’t have anyone to work around when I made it to the waterfall at the end of the roughly two-mile (one way) hike.

But on the way–perhaps halfway to my destination, I passed a boulder field that was covered with colorful freshly-fallen leaves.  I stopped in my tracks.  The light was even.  The wind was essentially non-existent.  There was no one around.  The scene definitely met my definition of photo-worthy.  Should I photograph the scene or press on to the falls, with the thought of photographing the scene on the return?  I almost instinctively set down my tripod and slipped my photo backpack from my shoulders; the time was now.

Arethusa Falls Trail, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

In short, when the opportunity arises, seize it.


  1. Absolutely agree with this philosophy. If I don’t shoot when I see it, the conditions will likely not be optimal later — if I even remember the spot. Often what I see on the way in, I don’t even notice on the way out, because the perspective is different. I’ve learned the hard way to shoot what looks good when I see it.

    • Hi Steve. Really good point re trying to find something on the way back–something I should have mentioned in the body of the piece. There have absolutely been times when, on the return hike, I completely missed something that I’d seen on the way in because it was only obvious from the initial perspective.

  2. Wow! That looks like an alter or seat, so interesting! Glad you stopped. Everytime I ignore that little camera voice, I regret it.📸❤

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Definitely worth stopping! So often those unexpected stops provide an image that few if any others would produce because they are singularly focused on the end of the trail subject.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  4. I am reminded of the quote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”yes, john Lennon wrote it, but the quote existed in print as early as 1957. Grab the moment! I see you did and it worked well for you.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  5. Absolutely fantastic piece of article. I really appreciate this so much

  6. Awesome shot with an interesting back story, sometime you need to get out of your head so mother nature can speak to you.
    I’d love to see the water falls. lol

  7. Thanks for your nice photography and it’s instruction.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a comment.

  8. You make a good point about being attentive on your journey towards a destination. Its so easy to be on a mission and miss an opportunity

  9. […] even certain that there was a shot to be had.  But then I remembered what I have termed the Bird-in-the-Hand Theory of Photography and decided to go ahead with it.  The resulting image is […]

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: