Cover Shot: A Game of Chance

When you’re a photographer, it is difficult to trust the outdoors – even in the digital age. The sun may be hanging in the wrong place. The shadows may come in blot out your subject. Storm clouds hide a sunrise. A sun goes down too quickly. The sun always goes down too quickly. Time and again, I have worked for hours to capture the right shot at sundown, but if you wait too long and miss that narrow window, you wind up with nothing. There have been times when the difference between a great photograph and an average photograph is a scant thirty seconds.
Be ready.

Be focused.

Look away for a moment.

Look back.

It’s gone.

And then there are some days when the planets must be aligned just right. Everything falls into place at the right moment.  Photography is a game of chance. And sometimes I even win.

It was on a chilly January 12 in 2006, and I was covering the Federation National Championship for Bassmaster Magazine on the Harris chain of lakes, just outside of Leesburg in central Florida.

The Photograph

It was not my first time on the lake. B.A.S.S. had sponsored so many tournaments on the chain that I knew Lake Harris as well as I knew my own front yard. It seemed as though I had photographed every lily pad, cattail, and patch of Kissimmee grass before.

As I walked down to the boat that morning, I already had the shot I wanted in mind. The morning was still dark, but the anglers were already in their boats waiting for the signal to begin. They would go out in three flights.

My aim was to leave right after the second flight.

We would have safe light even though the sun would still be lying below the water line. I told my boat driver exactly where I wanted to go.

It was a little cove on the east side of the lake.

Most knew it as the Ninth Street Canal.

It lay eight miles away.

If we weren’t late, we would be there waiting when the sun popped up, and I had seen the pop up before. I knew the tree limb where it would be dangling. Usually the sun caught me before I was ready for it.

Today, I told my driver, would be different.

The second flight of anglers roared across the water. We were right behind.

I glanced toward the east. The top rim of the sun was already crawling out of the lake.  “We may not make it,” I told my driver.

“Sure, we will,” he said. He pumped the boat up to 70 miles an hour. And the morning chill felt even colder.

We reached the Ninth Street Canal and came to a sudden halt.

I was too late.

The sun wasn’t up.

I had not missed it at all.

The Bassmaster Cover

But an angler was fishing in the cove. There was no way in without disturbing him, and I never wanted to bother an angler who had a tournament to win. I waited, hoping he would move on. He paid me no attention. Already it seemed as though I could feel the heat of the rising sun on my neck.

I took a deep breath and broke my own cardinal rule. I spoke up. “Excuse me,” I said, “but would it be all right if we used the trolling motor and eased on into the canal behind you. I’ll try not to bother you any.”

He grinned. “Won’t bother me at all,” he said. “If there are any bass here, they’re not up yet.”

He laughed.

I thanked him.

We slipped into the canal without causing many ripples at all.

I turned around, and the sunrise was absolutely perfect. It was framed by cypress trees, their limbs heavy with Spanish moss, and the ragged roots and limbs of a fallen tree. It was as dramatic as any setting I had seen in a long time. I thought to myself, “If only I had an angler in the right place, this would make a great cover shot for the magazine.”

On cue, the angler eased into the canal. He wasn’t interested in me. He probably didn’t even see me. He was looking for bass.

I was looking for him.

Photography was, as I said, a game of chance.

On this morning, I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right foreground and background. Chance was on my side. The sun could not have cooperated any better if I had paid it. It hung exactly where it was supposed to be.

I must have taken a hundred shots.

“What’d you get?” my boat driver asked.

“A cover,” I said.

And sure enough, on March 6, 2006, the picture ran on the cover of Bassmaster.

I simply held onto the camera that morning. And the sun waited patiently until I had taken the last shot. I guess it was making up for all of those times when it had run off and left me, when I had been at the wrong place at the wrong time and missed it.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related Posts