The Best Laid Plans
They say the best-laid plans of mice and men can go awry. It certainly holds for outdoor photographers, at least. Almost anything can happen out there. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Last month, much of the United States witnessed a lunar eclipse dubbed the "Super Flower Blood Moon" eclipse because of the moon's reddish color preceding the main event. Here in the Puget Sound region, overcast skies obscured the show entirely. Such was all but certain based on the weather forecasts. But it would have been nice.
The weather in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit fickle, to put it kindly. Although we receive less total precipitation than many other parts of the country, it often comes down as a drizzle for hours and hours at a stretch. The Olympic Peninsula is famous for its rainforest, but the entire area west of the Cascades is not immune. Indeed, we've had an unusually wet spring, and my yard seems to have more moss than grass right now. At least it's still green, I guess.
All those gray skies and rain can also interfere with photography plans. Sunrise and sunset images just don't look the same when the sun is hidden behind clouds. And while it's nice to have at least a few puffy clouds for interest during the day, overcast gray is taking things a bit too far. It can be frustrating when circumstances end up conflicting with your plans, but it doesn't help to dwell on it. Cloudy weather can be perfect for shooting forest detail shots and macro work. Look for subjects that allow you to crop out the sky and those that benefit from soft, diffuse lighting.
Adaptability is key. I usually have relatively specific plans for where to go and what subjects I'm interested in shooting. But if I don't find what I expected to, I look for other options. All that planning goes out the window, and I have to open my mind and rely on my senses. Sometimes, I come away with nothing, but I would have anyway had I given up. But sometimes, I find something new to photograph or a new way of shooting something I thought I knew well. Discovery and creativity tend to occur at the edges and boundaries of comfort and familiarity, not when treading over well-worn territory.
Mother nature can deal you an even worse hand, of course. It may be warm one day but uncomfortably cold the next. Wet and cold conditions can lead to hypothermia, something much more dangerous than the pain of missing that eclipse shot or perfect sunrise. One morning in the North Cascades, I woke up to find it snowing when I had expected clear skies. But since I had brought along warmer clothes, I was prepared. As the snow continued and became heavier, I decided not to risk getting snowed in and drove down to lower elevations. Preparedness is good, but there are limits. Make sure you know yours and don't risk your safety to get a shot. It may be almost summer in the lowlands, but the mountains can make their own weather.
Backpackers have lived by the "Ten Essentials" since long before I was born. Although the exact list of included items has evolved, the concept remains the same. It's better to prepare for anything than risk serious injury or even death. Standard entries include warm clothing, extra food and water, and first aid supplies. Recommendations also call for having sunscreen, a flashlight or headlamp, a knife, matches or other provisions for starting a fire, shelter, and a map and compass. Some of these are easier to cross off your list when car camping instead of backpacking, but all are still well worth considering no matter your means of transportation.
Don't assume that things will go as you expect. If there's one key takeaway I can recommend here, be prepared. The best-laid plans include being prepared for contingencies, not just how you hope things will turn out. That way, you can safely enjoy and explore what mother nature brings.
Here's to hoping the weather brings you something interesting, even if it may be unexpected. Uncommon circumstances can yield compelling images that stand out from the crowd, so long as you can shoot them safely.