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Photographing Something Before It’s Gone

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

When I shoot large format film, one of the great challenges is being picky with the photos I ultimately expose. Certainly there are benefits to shooting this way, namely that the rate of “keepers” is higher with this format. But there are also drawbacks. One of the biggest is being unable – or perhaps a better word is unwilling – to photograph a scene when I’m unsure if it will work.

In my photography, this has led to some missed opportunities over the years. For example, I have come across beautiful woodland scenes that I intended to photograph, only for them to vanish due to a freak storm before I can dedicate a sheet of film to their capture.

It’s impossible in an article to highlight all the missed opportunities I’ve experienced as a photographer. Partly, it’s because there have been so many over the years. Partly, too, it’s a lack of evidence (photographs) on my part, since most of these subjects disappeared before I photographed them at all!

In lieu of that, I have chosen to highlight a few photographs I’ve taken which could have been missed opportunities, had I not followed my gut feeling and captured a photo before they were gone. Two of the photograph in this article involve trees which were felled (one naturally and the other by man), which ultimately destroyed the composition. The others involve transitory subjects – one a paint brush, one a deer skull – that were gone shortly after I took their respective photographs.


Back in the glorious year of 2020, my girlfriend and I decided to drive up to my family’s cabin in northern Pennsylvania rather than our usual trip to Acadia (for obvious reasons). It was while walking along the road leading into the property, looking for ferns or other intimate subjects to photograph, when I came across two trees, each leaning quite heavily to opposing sides. The scene was interesting and I felt as though the composition would make for a fine photograph, though I wondered if something was missing. Knowing I had a finite amount of film and no way to restock it at the cabin, I decided against making the photograph.

I don’t recall how many days I allowed to lapse before changing my mind. Even if I remembered, it wouldn’t matter, would it? All that I remember is how terribly I wished for fog to roll in with each passing day. Fog in Pennsylvania is a rarity, it seems, and though it occurs more frequently at the cabin thanks to the lake, this fog has a tendency not to spread very far. Even had it come along, there was no way it would reach these trees, so I had to deal with the scene at hand.