One of the most common lessons photographers learn along their journey is to take a shot when you see it. Too often we see perfect lighting and race against it to get to a more ideal location to match it. The only problem is that when we get there, the light’s changed, resulting in a less than stellar shot we not only had envisioned, but also had before racing to beat the light from changing.

This lesson was drilled into me during a whiteout snow storm while I was driving home to Kelly one day through Antelope Flats. Frequent commutes along the road had me notice a series of dying cottonwood trees, leftover from an irrigation ditch that had long since been abandoned. Along each trip past them, they were nothing more than old cottonwood trees out in the flats, their placing never quite inspiring enough to be a foreground subject.

The whiteout on this particular day had reduced visibility to only a few dozen yards, coating the entire landscape in solid white. My focus was simply on getting home, paying as much attention to the road as I could while also keeping an eye out for both headlights or taillights that might pop out in front or behind me. At that point, I had only seen one other car.

As I began to pass those distinct cottonwoods, one in particular had an ethereal quality to it. It was mesmerizing, distracting my attention away from the road, but I quickly regained control of my focus and continued on. Yet the image persisted in my head. That tree took on an entirely new life separated from its traditional backdrop. Never without my camera, I wondered if it was worth risking turning around to go capture. The whiteout hadn’t let up at all, so the risk was in another car plowing into me while turning around or even stopping for the shot. Excuses poured in, and I almost succumbed to them, but I couldn’t get the image out of my head.

I made a quick stop and spun my car around, heading back to the site. Once past the tree heading in the opposite direction, I made one more 180 and headed back to the subject, the conditions still overpowering the landscape. I found the tree once again, stopped my car, snapped a quick shot, then proceeded home, fearing with such minimal visibility, stopping in the road would be catastrophic if another car were to come up from behind me. Fortunately, no other cars came into sight at all.

I drove by those trees over and over again in the following days, very content with the results of my shot. Within one week however, the specific trees that I had shot had toppled over due to old age and lack of water from the abandoned irrigation ditch. Their presence had now completely shifted forever to horizontally lying on the ground. Whiteouts would continue to come through the area, but the shot I had just gotten would never be repeated again by anyone. Not only did it wind up being one of my favorite black and white photos I’ve ever taken, but even when printed large, I’m asked by nearly everyone if it’s a drawing, thanks to the unique texture and conditions of the shot itself.

This reaffirmed my decision to turn around, and even made the photo more sentimental to me as the weeks, months, then years went on. It also drilled in the lesson that I had a hard time learning: if the shot is there, take it. Don’t wait for next time because there may never be a next time, or even just a little later. Take the shot while it’s there. Period.

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