What I Learned by Missing the Shot

The best landscape shots can require planning and preparation, but when the shot doesn’t come together, photographers can still walk away with something valuable.To get ready for the lunar eclipse, I spent a couple days going out and scouting locations. I knew that the moon would be high in the sky at the peak of the eclipse, so I needed something tall to anchor the foreground.

I’m not good at visualizing locations based on the angle measurements most resources provide. The moon being at 63 degrees doesn’t cut it for what I was trying to do. With that in mind, I finally got around to buying PhotoPills, an app that came highly recommended. It feels expensive for an app, but I found the visualization tools really useful. I found a perfect saguaro, a tall cactus native to my area. It’s iconic, and the limbs of the cactus would make a great foreground element.

With my shot planned out, all that was left was waiting for the moonrise. Unfortunately, we had patchy clouds, and they were only getting worse. I still made the drive out to the location, hoping things would get better, but realized I was entirely clouded out.

I stuck around for a while, and was feeling pretty disappointed that I wasn't going to get a shot. I walked around, and tried to work some different angles, but the clouds just ruined any chance at a clear image. I had already missed a good portion of the eclipse, and was going to pack it in, when I noticed a little gap in the clouds. I decided to wait another few minutes, and was rewarded with my first real view of the moon that night.

This shot isn’t going to win any awards — there were still some wispy, high altitude clouds, and I had missed my chance to include a foreground element, but I’m happy to have gotten something.

Looking back, I’m almost happy it turned out this way. I got to learn a new tool for scouting locations, and I still had a good time out under the stars. I wish the shot that I planned for would have worked out, but sometimes you need a reminder that landscape photography is equal parts planning and compensating for the conditions out there. The next eclipse in my area isn’t for a few years, so I’m hoping for a clearer forecast then. Until then, however, I’m happy to apply my new, more patient mindset to some other images.

Have you had an experience where you failed to get the shot? If you at least learned something from it, whether that thing is big or small, you should still take it as a win.

Lead image by Chuttersnap

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Deleted Account's picture

I feel your pain. I'm in San Francisco, and we had rain forecast for the afternoon and evening. I had no expectation of getting anything at all during the eclipse. But as chance would have it, the skies cleared for 30 minutes or so, and I was able to get a few shots of Earth's shadow encroaching onto he face of the Moon. Like you say, mine will win no awards, but that is not what I care about. I had hoped to get a shot with the shadow of Earth cutting across the middle of the Moon so that the curvature of both was evident. You can use an image like that to calculate the distance to the Moon, which Greek astronomers did more than 2000 years ago - they sketched theirs, of course. My images worked for this little exercise. They yielded a distance to the Moon only about 7% off the actual distance. Prize enough.

JetCity Ninja's picture

here’s one of my fails from the eclipse, taken 45 minutes before it began, just as some clouds moved in on the full moon. didn’t bother with a foreground element due to the angle and the high chance of camera waving crowds near local landmarks all trying to sabotage your shot in the hope they get the only one. the iffy weather forecast also convinced me not to put too much effort into this one and resigned myself early on to create a composite instead if i want something more interesting.

there will be other photogenic astronomical events in the future.

Rod Kestel's picture

LOL, gotta love your watermark.

Your photo's actually not bad. Plenty of people are taking clear shots of the moon so this has a bit of character. I think maybe it'd have worked better in landscape with those horizontal clouds.

PS you lot in the northern hemisphere have the moon the wrong way around.

Timothy Turner's picture

I don't think your photo is a failure at all, any chance to capture such a spectacular event is a good thing, it says I was there. Here is my version, not as good as many others but it was an amazing experience. I just wonder, looking at the outline of the earth shadow cast on the moon, what part of the earth is that, and also if you were standing on the moon, would you see a solar eclipse.

Deleted Account's picture

Don't know what part of Earth it is, but yes, if you were standing on the Moon you would see a solar eclipse.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Looking at the lead image I thought you are wedding photographer and client sued you.

S M's picture

Clouds + foreground element illuminated by a moon? You could have easily had a little timelapse going on while you waited for your shot!

I know the middle of the night is tough to discover a new composition, but in landscape photography there is never just one approach to a scene in my opinion. If going out to a location and ultimately telling a story in a blog afterwords is part of your approach, challenge yourself to step outside of the scheduled plan and trying something new. You never know what split second creativity may stir up!

I once drove to a lighthouse to shoot the Milky Way from a familiar comp I had seen due to social media. When I got to the location there was so much light illuminating off the buildings and cars around that even attempting a shot seemed fruitless. To that point I had never used my 70-200 at night for any sort of Milky Way photography, let along a panorama with it. So I drove about a 1/4 mile down the road to another spot with less light pollution issues and went to work.

To this day it still is one of my most favorite adventure when shooting night photography and one of the biggest learning experiences I have had when my idea didn’t go as planned.

S M's picture

1/4 mile away

Richard Rhee's picture

I feel your pain. I had a shoot planned out for the 2018 Super Blue Blood Moon and was totally blanketed by clouds (although I was able to pull out the moon in post via MS Paint lol).

Landscape photography is always a gamble and sometimes things just don't pan out. Still, it's fun to try and it's good practice, especially if you're just starting out with PhotoPills. It's amazing what you can plan out with that app.