Waiting for Ideal Photographic Conditions May be Detrimental

Within the context of my business I meet quite a few people. As could be expected, discussions about various approaches to  photography often ensue. Each of us makes decisions about photography, and our lives, based on our experience and philosophy. This article discusses why waiting for ideal photographic conditions may be detrimental.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. I’ve included a few photographs to serve as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4.-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-160

Recently I had a chat with an individual about going on extended photography tours to capture landscape images. During that discussion they made an interesting comment. “I assume that you only shoot landscape images under ideal conditions during the magic hour… just like I do. ”

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 11mm, efov 30mm, f8, 1/160, ISO-160

No doubt they were as nonplussed with my reply, as I was with their statement. “Actually… I’ve only ever planned to do landscape photography under ideal conditions a few times in my life. When on an extended photography tour we just take each day as it comes. Our approach to our photography is best described as catch as catch can.”

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 11mm, efov 30mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

Our viewpoints varied significantly so our discussion moved on to different subject matter. Our chat did cause my mind to muse about the notion of waiting for ideal photographic conditions.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1800

I thought about how many people have the opportunity in life to only do their work under ideal conditions. Do PGA golf pros win countless tournaments because they only play when there is no wind, no dampness, and the temperature is between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius (~61 to 75 Fahrenheit)?

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD, @ 30mm, efov 81mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-3200

Are there any players in the Football Hall of Fame who were known to be ‘the best in the sport’ based on them only playing during ideal game conditions?

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-400

I could not think of anyone in professional sport who had achieved greatness by only plying their craft during ideal conditions. The opposite was actually true. The truly great players excelled in spite of the conditions they faced. It was their ability to rise above their immediate situation that allowed them to push the development of their talents. They discovered how much more they could accomplish with their expanded skill set. Overcoming adversity is a key factor in each of us becoming the best that we can be.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @208 mm, efov 562 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-4500

Obviously there is nothing wrong with planning a photo shoot to take advantage of ideal conditions. Creating masterful images happens as a result of a number of factors, and shooting conditions can play a significant role. If we are exclusively focused on pursuing ‘the best possible image’ then that planning orientation makes total sense.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 275mm, efov 742mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200, V3 pop up flash

What I am suggesting is that only shooting under ideal conditions may become a self-limiting exercise. Just like a pro golfer who only chooses to play under ideal conditions. How could they learn to adjust their approach, and perform at a high professional level during periods of inclement weather, without actually doing it? Watching it on YouTube doesn’t cut it.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 17mm, efov 46mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

I thought about photo journalists who ply their trade during the heat of the battle in war zones. Do they get the opportunity to raise a flag so the bullets, bombs and grenades stop for an hour in order that they can capture their images? They operate in the most harrowing of conditions with many winning Pulitzer prizes for their amazing work.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 32mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-3200

There is no doubt that striving for ‘the best possible image’ under ideal conditions is a worthwhile pursuit that can lead to truly spectacular photographic creations.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/16, 1/2, ISO-160

I also believe that it is important to strive to capture ‘the best image possible’ under difficult conditions. In my mind, these are the situations that present the biggest opportunities for personal growth and creativity. After all, our most meaningful challenge in life is competing with our own best self.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using camera gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Ideal Photographic Conditions May be Detrimental”

  1. Hi Tom,

    The topic you posted reminded me of a lot of photo assignments I did for a travel magazine a few years back. Truth is, not all days can be sunny and bright so I “bank” shots during what we may term as “less ideal” weather conditions; if I am gifted with better weather and more time to repeat the shot, I will do so on another day. If not, I have images that reflect the mood of the days on assignment anyway.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I find shooting in foul weather challenging. I guess, it’s about finding beauty everywhere, even in inclement weather. As long as my gear is secure from the weather, it could be quite an experience to shoot under a squall, seaside during a typhoon (although of course, taking the necessary precautions and not stepping over the brink of insanity lol). Postcard-pretty images are dandy and nice, yes, but only reflective of a certain aspect of the place.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      I also enjoy shooting under a wide variety of conditions. I find that it makes me think quickly ‘on my feet’ in terms of deciding the best way to shoot what I see before me. Having a flexible approach has also proven very useful with my client video business. We recently did a safety video for a client which we were expecting to shoot in the department where the machine would be used. For reasons that I won’t discuss here, we were unable to do that and had to shoot all of our video segments in a back hallway. We had to quickly adjust our shooting plan to still get all of the required safety footage, while disguising the fact that we were not actually shooting in the department.


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