Persistence Pays in Photography

Sep 6 2011

Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

Canon 5DMKII + 24-70mm f/2.8, 43mm, f/16, 10s, ISO 100.

After my big move out of my San Francisco apartment, I thought I’d take myself and my wonderful mum, who helped my move, on a little California photo vacation before heading back East. It’s always been a dream of mine to shoot the Santa Monica pier after seeing it in a number of movies/tv shows, so last night I trekked out onto the sandy beach and snapped this shot.

This shot was all about persistence. When I arrived at the beach, it was quite foggy and the light wasn’t great. The colours were muted, the sky was grey and there were a lot of pesky tourists parked right in the middle of my shot. After waiting for almost an hour, the sky suddenly turned a gorgeous shade of purple with a misty pink horizon. So, I had my sky. Next, I needed a great reflection of the lights on the pier.

My shoreside set up. About to get drenched!

I tried a number of different angles on the beach and levels on my tripod. Unfortunately, the sweet spot for the reflection and composition was very close to the shoreline which meant that when a large wave came in, I was calf-deep in salty ocean goodness. I also had to time my 10s exposure just as the waves were pulling out so that the sand was wet enough to create the best reflection.

Santa Monica Pier

Setting up the shot.

Next came the ferris wheel spin. Much to my chagrin, the ferris wheel spun very sporadically and with numerous lighting patterns. It was hit or miss, so I had to take a lot of shots. I took over 100 shots waiting for the perfect combo of tide out, good reflections, and ferris wheel spin and this photo was my very last shot. Needless to say, my mum was not impressed that this whole process took nearly 1 1/2 hours of “one more photo”. She had long since put her tripod and camera away and was hopping up and down to keep warm.

When we got back, she wasn’t really happy with the photos she took. She lamented about the fact that her less expensive, Canon XSi (450D) couldn’t take as good pictures as my 5DMKII, but I said that the difference between our photos wasn’t the fact that I had the better camera, but that I persisted longer to get the shot.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve taken almost 30,000 pictures with my 5DMKII. My first shot was out of focus. My 100th shot was over-exposed. My 1607 shot was completely black. My 3056 shot needed a lot of post-processing. But, this shot, my 29,604 shot was great straight out of the camera. Why? Because I had 29,603 shots to practice my skills, so that when I finally got to this beach to take a shot I dreamt about for years, I knew what camera settings to use, how to compose the shot, and to wait an hour and a half for great light.

The bad news is you can’t skip the steps it takes to learn how to use your camera settings, compose great shots, and perfect light. But, the good news is that anyone with a relentless determination and passion can go to this exact spot and take an equally great photo.

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23 Responses to “Persistence Pays in Photography”

  1. Must agree with that! Passion, determination and persistence in doing things really pays off. That was one stunning photo.

  2. It’s all about persistence and patience. What a beautiful shot! I love it! Keep up the good work.

  3. I totally agree with you. I wasn’t the person to coin this but the idea is “if you knew you’d make your keeper on your 10th image would you stop after nine?”

    I think a lot of people completely get disappointed with their lack of success. Perhaps they don’t love the “doing” of photography as much as you to keep things interesting even through the times of low success.

    BTW, awesome image, great pre-visualization, and the commitment shows.

    Cheers

    Tom

  4. Awesome shot, Lisa. The reflections are perfect! Makes standing in the ocean for an hour and a half well worth it…

  5. Lisa,

    I fell in love with Photography in High School – unfortunately, I failed to learn more during the “Non-Digital” period. When digital photography finally became affordable – I reunited my heart with my love of photography (After 30 years). You are so right – I will persist and capture those very special mere moments in my life that I will never re-live.

  6. Thanks for the notes Lisa. A lot of times I hurry because I am either: a. just trying to move on to “the next shot” or b. I am worried that the people I am out shooting with are going to get tired of waiting for me!

    If you can make your mother wait in the cold beach weather, I can certainly keep my old high school buddies waiting a few more minutes so I can get a good one.

    It’s great to get real examples, from another photographer! Keep em’ coming!

    Jeff

  7. I say persistence and patience are prerequisites in photography. :)

  8. It is so nice to see a post that reflects the way you used to write last year. I have enjoyed the photos you have taken this year, and I’m sure like you suggest in this post, it’s all part of your journey. But I just wanted to let you know how nice it is to have that little bit more of you that you used to always include in your posts.

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Awesome photo. I’ve been at the pier many times whenever I visited S.M. over the last decade and shot quite a few frames of that scene – at day and night, wide and tele, from the cliff and the shore, on film and digital. But none of them came close to that perfection in terms of its vibes.

    About patience and persistence: I’ve found out that both of them are needed as well on the side of the photog as on the side of the companion(s). As a social and non-selfish beeing you usually don’t want to bother your environment with your strange way of wasting time. That’s why I suggest never to go on a photo tour with a tourist or a snapshooter. In most cases this will end up in some kind of disharmony or even destroy relations. (Ok, there is an exception with mums, because they are patient with their kids by nature *grin*) Doing so will result in better photos and a good mood on any side (after you show up again from your digilab with a cool picture).

    I am looking forward to see more of your work.

    Olli from Berlin, DE

  10. Well said! Great photo, the patience was worth it!

  11. Nice to see you using your blog again, I remember the old days of it all. ;)

    I’ve loved to see your progress from then as well, and am trying to keep up with my own photo/video progress.

    I couldn’t agree more that you just need to get out and use your camera, experiment, and have the persistence to get where you want to be.

    Thanks Lisa!

  12. Oh yeh on persistance

    Also trying for a shot you really want with a none photog in toe is really painful. I had that last week when I was in the UK and got constantly rushed – still got a few good ones, but it is frustrating when you realize you left some good ones behind due to being rushed.

    The flipside is also true when you are out with a photog who also wants some keeper shots

  13. Wow! That is a terrific shot! Persistance definitely goes a long way.

  14. I TOTALLY agree with you here. When I find something interesting I take tons of photos of it, from slightly different angles, different exposures, different apertures, etc and sometimes multiple shots with the same settings. I may come away with 10-50 shots of the “same exact thing” but they’re not. One of them is usually pretty good.

    I call it “Success by Statistics”: if I take enough shots I’m statistically likely to end up with at least one good one. With digital cameras, why the heck wouldn’t you do that? It’s not like you have to pay to develop/print all your shots. It’s super cheap to keep up the training of a good eye and get good results just by taking a large number of slightly different shots.

  15. you said it best, photography is persistense. and digital photography made it easier because of instant access to the pics you just took. make adjustments, check the histogram, and so on. pictures are moments snatched from an elapsing time, and every photographer knows that you could never put a pricetag on memories.

  16. Well said… Being prepared always helps. Nice shot…

  17. Cannot agree more with you. I’m taking up a hobby in photography and this sure is a great lesson to learn.

  18. great shot!
    I am Nikon user, but when I see these tones in canon I get an enormous envy.
    good job!

  19. Wonderful photography. Missing +1 button in this site. Please add +1 button so that we can share it on G+ directly from your site. Thanks.

  20. Great photos. Persistence and determination really works. Keep it up. Those are beautiful shots.

  21. I have a Canon 450D and it’s nice to hear you say that’s it not about how good your camera is, it’s the photographer and their ‘attitude’ to taking the shots.

    Shoot, practise and don’t give up!

  22. Stunning images and beautiful landscapes my compliments.

  23. [...] Persistence was the key to this shot of the Santa Monica Pier. [...]

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