The Time of Your Life

August 11, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Photography is all about light (literally translated, photography means "drawing with light") but it's just as much about time. 

There's the brief snippet of time when the shutter is open, the time invested in making the photo, and time as it relates to planning and execution.

Photographers capture and preserve moments in time - moments that will never be repeated again in exactly the same way. Yet, especially where nature photography is concerned, a single image might take many hours, or months, or perhaps even years to create. That's quite a lot to snag one little fraction of a second. 

How many moments are represented in a body of work? 

Those moments are special, but each image represents more than a single instant frozen forever for posterity. Good photographs can evoke reactions. They can tell stories. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Maybe so, especially when the viewer connects emotionally with the image. 

There are also back stories about how the photograph came to be. That's what I see and recall when looking at my own images. 

While we're immortalizing and collecting moments with our cameras, time in its broadest sense is pivotal to the process. It's every bit as important as the weather.

Consider just some of the ways time - and timing - drives decision-making and impacts the outcome:

  • The daily timing of celestial events 
  • The tide cycle 
  • How quickly the rising moon will clear the horizon
  • What is the best shutter speed to achieve the desired result
  • What day and at what time the sun or moon will be in a specific location in relation to a chosen landmark
  • How long will it take to drive to the location, make the hike, and get set up in time to capture a specific weather event
  • What time of day works best for the location
  • What time of year works best for the location
  • Time management: squeezing the most opportunity from the conditions

Time and photography are joined at the hip in more ways than one.

Time in nature is time well spent. 

"You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day,
and you only get so many days on the planet.
A good photographer does the math and doesn't waste either."

-Galen Rowell

Sunset at the Barn Grand Teton National ParkStylish ExitA beautiful sunset fills the sky over the historic John Moulton homestead with fiery color. As there was a herd of bison not too far away, tourists bypassed this stunning scene in favor of the animals - leaving it to be enjoyed in solitude. (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)

About the Image

Photographically speaking, Grand Teton National Park generally doesn't produce great late-day/sunset conditions. The mountains often pick up a little bit of haze and the Big Holes to the west of the Teton Range can block the light and prevent good color development. There are exceptions, though. I was expecting something as the sun went down on this day, but the vibrance, intensity and duration of the sunset color was a surprise. Interestingly, in spite of this being a popular tourist spot, I was the only one there capturing this spectacular scene. A herd of bison were grazing not far away; the cars that did come along passed by without even a glance at the sky. They were intent on getting to the animals.   

About Galen Rowell

A landscape photographer and photojournalist who also happened to be an accomplished mountaineer, Rowell influenced me when I was starting out. He left the world too soon, tragically dying in a plane crash 19 years ago yesterday when returning from a shoot in Alaska. He was a founding contributor and columnist for Outdoor Photographer magazine; I learned a great deal from studying his work and reading his pieces. You'll find his books in my library. If you can locate a copy, I highly recommend Galen Rowell: A Retrospective (Sierra Club Books).


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