Toss the Plan

April 13, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Leading EdgeLeading EdgeA monsoonal storm advances into Jackson Hole

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Planning and photography go hand-in-hand. The odds for a productive outing are improved if you've got a plan.  

All sorts of tools are available for this purpose. Apps that project the percentages and levels of cloud cover; apps with tide table charts; apps that calculate exactly where the sun and moon will rise and set; apps to determine the apparent altitude of the sun or moon; apps that forecast wind speed. 

Preparing for a shoot at an unfamiliar location requires an extra level of preparation, a lot of which is related to maps. For instance: How far is it from wherever you'll be based to locations of interest? What's the distance between locations? How are various subjects oriented relative to the sun? What are the trail options? Roughly how long will it take to hike from point A to point B? 

Of course the weather is monitored: both current conditions and the forecast. Temperature. Dew point. Wind direction and speed. Precipitation. Visibility. (Tools that accurately forecast in one-hour increments are the most useful.)

Not every shoot involves detailed pre-planning, of course. Sometimes it's a matter of racing out the door on the spur-of-the-moment to chase something - perhaps a weather event. Still, even impromptu situations benefit from a rough game plan.

Am I a planner? Absolutely. 

But I'm also flexible, because I'm always prepared to toss the plan. (Actually I expect to toss it.)

Landscape photographers aren't in charge; it's Mother Nature who calls the shots. How many times are the conditions exactly as you hoped they'd be? How often is the forecast 100% accurate? 

By all means arrive on location with a game plan, but keep an open mind. Expect the unexpected. Allow for contingencies.

Be ready to call an audible.

If you do need to pivot, try to think of it as an opportunity rather than a setback. Be patient; anticipate what might happen next; consider alternatives. When faced with challenging weather or light (or whatever the issue) it could be a good time to try something new. Experiment. You may find a completely different subject or more interesting composition than what you originally had in mind. There is almost always something to photograph.

Why bother creating a game plan if it's likely you're going to end up abandoning it? 

  • You may be able to use it. Every once in a while the stars align and the conditions are optimal! 
  • Serendipity favors the prepared.
  • The plan likely contains information that will be useful in terms of developing an alternate course of action. It'll improve your ability to pivot - especially when you need to react quickly.
  • There is accumulated knowledge in shot planning which is especially useful if it's a location to which you return often.

Preparation is worthwhile. Create a plan.

Be ready to toss it.

Recognize opportunities; make the most of them. 

Have a good outing!

About the Photograph

This is an example of a jettisoned plan with a good result. I was in Grand Teton National Park intending to photograph the Comet Neowise. The forecast called for completely clear skies. Knowing where the comet would appear and at about what time, I pre-selected my location and determined how I was going to compose the shot.

I'd arrived much earlier in the day to scout locations for another project. As predicted it was clear - but by late-afternoon I noticed cumulus clouds forming to the south. This was a bit concerning; when you're hoping to photograph a celestial object, clouds are a problem. Obviously. 

Over the next hour or so clouds continued to develop and climb higher; the sky filled. Those thunderheads were drifting northward into Jackson Hole. So much for the forecast.

I wasn't worried (yet). There was time for the monsoon to roll through and conditions to clear before nightfall. 

Meanwhile, I had to try to do something with this impressive sky. Situated near the Inner Loop, I was too close to the mountains. I needed a vantage point where the enormity of the clouds would be apparent. Because the storm was now advancing rapidly there would be little time to reach a more suitable location. I settled on Antelope Flats. From there the Teton Range provided good scale for the massive leading edge of the monsoon.

What about Neowise, the subject I'd planned to shoot? Sorry, but no. There would be no comet for me. Thunder and lightning rumbled through the area all night.   

In Local News

The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park opens at 8am tomorrow, conditions permitting. It has been cold and snowy this week. (We need precipitation; we'll take it however we can get it.) Island Park, Idaho had about eight inches of snow on Tuesday. From the looks of the west gate webcam they had at least that much.

It's snowing today and there's more in the forecast for Saturday. Check ahead with the park service to make sure they're open. I'd anticipate less-than-optimal road conditions once inside. I've pushed my own plans to head up there back by a week. 

Happy Easter!


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