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Light is the most important element in photography, but timing plays a huge role, too. Unless you’re staging everything in a studio (and even then timing is extremely important, capturing moods and angles and positions), you’re usually at the mercy of some sort of timing. That means triggering the shutter at the right moment when something amazing happens in front of the camera (you think whales breach at the photographer’s whim? Ha ha ha ha ha ha), or being amid the trees when autumn colors erupt for their brief window before winter shuts it all down.
This week I went to Mount Vernon, Washington to capture the colors of the annual Tulip Festival. The area includes dozens of tulip fields that are amazing to see in bloom. Rows and rows of red, pink, purple, yellow, and white tulips wonderfully receding to perspective points under broken clouds.
Except the timing was off. Most of the flowers looked as if they still needed a week before opening. A man who works at the Roozengaarde farm (one of the largest, and certainly the one that caters most to the flock of tourists that arrive) said the fields would be full of color in five days. The plantings were still impressive, but more so because of their potential than for their appearance.
That said, the timing was also on, in a sense. My mother-in-law was visiting and my wife took the day off from work so we could make the hour’s drive to the tulip fields. My schedule allowed me just that day to steal away in the middle of the week. If we hadn’t visited Mount Vernon that day, it wouldn’t have happened at all.
Even better, the weather was perfect: sunny with patchy clouds, warm in the sun and crisp in the shade. The ground, branded by overlapping tractor wheel prints, swelled with water but remained firm at the surface. It felt like walking on a stiff waterbed (if you remember those) in places. The air was clean and occasionally scented with turned soil and some elusive blossom that I couldn’t identify (despite sniffing around like a dog on the hunt for bacon).
So, with my photo bag slung across my back and camera ready, I did what a good photographer should do and worked to make some good photos.
They weren’t the ones I had in my head before we arrived, but that’s important too: If you’re not open to making photos of what’s in front of you, you’re going to miss a lot of great shots. I didn’t make nearly as many images as I thought I would, but a few keepers emerged.
After a couple of hours, we packed up and had to head back to Seattle (starving bellies competed with the reality of impending traffic). Even though abbreviated, it was a good day out in nature and behind a camera.
Timing is absolutely important in photography, but often timing means “take the time available to go shoot,” even if it’s not at peak color.
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