The perfect time to take a photo

Picture: Oak trees, cows and green grass on hills over valley in spring at sunset, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California

Oak trees, cows and green grass on hills over valley in spring at sunset, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California

When someone is looking at one of our photos, many photographers have heard the saying “Wow! You caught that at just the perfect moment.” Sometimes though, the perfect time to take a photo… isn’t.

This last weekend I was on a training hike in the hills near my house. I had a fully loaded day pack with all of my camera gear and tripod. However, on this day I was more interested in exercise than photography, covering about 6 miles and 2000 feet of elevation in two hours. I crested the summit of Briones Peak just as the sun was going down on the horizon. At my favorite spot, I stopped to soak in the scenery and watch the sunset.

It was a clear, late summer afternoon. As I looked around, I could see the last golden rays of sunset light kissing the edges of the golden hills. To my left, a group of four deer were standing in the tall grass just below the new crescent moon. Straight ahead I could see the fog rolling in to the San Francisco Bay, as the sun set over the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais. To my right, a falcon hovered in the breeze above me as I looked out toward the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta.

It was all there. It was perfect. I had my camera with me.

It was as the famed psychologist, Abraham Maslow, would describe as a Peak Experience.

I immediately recognized that there was no way to capture everything I was seeing and feeling in a single frame. I also realized that if I raced to break out my gear and start trying to record all the disparate elements, I would completely shatter the peaceful scene by frantically trying to take pictures. My camera gear stayed nestled against my back as I stood quietly soaking in, experiencing, and being part the scene.

After remaining motionless for a few moments, a field mouse started rustling in the grass two feet from where I was standing. I no longer felt alone, but I was totally content. It was a perfect moment.

My only regret is that I can only share the experience with you in words. But this is one instance where the camera would’ve completely interfered with my experiencing the perfect moment for the sake of trying to record it.

C’est la vie.

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9 Comments on “The perfect time to take a photo”

  1. Janine Smith Says:

    I completely agree. It seems we’re so busy documenting our lives sometimes that we don’t take the time to observe and enjoy them. An owl flew ahead of me while I was leaving Solstice Canyon, and a few days later the canyon burned. No photo I could have take could equal the magical feeling of following the owl, paying attention and appreciating the moment.

  2. Jim Goldstein Says:

    Sounds like the perfect moment to enjoy being a naturalist… a lover of nature and nothing more. We should all be so lucky to enjoy such moments

  3. Julie Rorden Says:

    Those who have experienced moments such as you described will know the truth of your words.

  4. latoga Says:

    Sometimes we have to save the best images for only our enjoyment. I would feel safe in saying that nearly every nature photographer who enjoys nature has had a few moments just like this one of yours. Should we all be so lucky!

  5. Alan Majchrowicz Says:

    Totally agree. Last spring at Natural Bridges I was fortunate enough to have a very productive day. The light just kept on going but I stopped photographing and sat out the remainder of the day in peace. It was one of the most spiritually refreshing evenings I’ve had.

  6. Rob Says:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in moments like the one you described. I formed a picture of the scene just by reading what you wrote. Sometimes 1,000 words are worth one picture. (sometimes)

  7. Richard Wong Says:

    Great post Gary. I think after a certain point when you are established as a photographer, there is less of a need to shoot everything. Sometimes we just need to do things for ourselves.

  8. Guy Tal Says:

    Wonderful entry, Gary. I know these moments well and have never regretted coming home without a photograph after such a moving experience.


  9. Sharon Van Lieu Says:

    We like to go to the beach just to enjoy the sunset/rise without camera gear. It is refreshing and at times exhilarating. I never feel like I lost an opportunity – I feel like I’ve recharged and energized myself to better capture the scene when I do bring the camera. It’s always great to find out other photographers have the same experiences you have – we are a community!


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