National Geographic Travel associate producer and photographer Tyler Metcalfe recently found himself in Montana, tasked with capturing the vast state and all it holds. From tracking bison to meeting local cowboys, Metcalfe photographed the essence of the state. Here he shares why getting the right picture sometimes takes more than planning—and how patience and a little luck can make your picture.
Waiting for the right light is something all photographers know too well. Golden evening light can turn an ordinarily bland scene into something beautiful. So when I found myself at an ideal location on the Upper Missouri River during harsh afternoon light, I knew I needed to return to the same spot in order to make a better photograph. Unfortunately, sometimes even good light is not enough to tell a full story.
As the sun lowered and lit up the canyon walls from a better angle, I returned to this spot to capture the evening scene. For half an hour, I worked to fill the frame with foliage and reflections, but I was still missing a key component: a paddler. My goal in traveling to the river was to document a canoe trip through the Upper Missouri River Breaks, and in order to do this I had to photograph a person in a canoe on the river at the right time of day. At this moment, I was in an ideal spot with great light but without the subject I needed to complete the picture. Though I was traveling with an outfit of six other paddlers, the group—tired and ready for a big meal—was unenthusiastic about getting back in the water after having just canoed all day.
Then I got lucky. Just as the sun was about to lower beneath the horizon, I noticed a lone paddler heading toward me on the river. As he approached, I shot a handful of frames from the bank, trying to re-create some of the frames I had already produced—this time with the paddler.
Photo Tip: Once you get there, be patient. The important lesson here is that you should always put yourself in new situations. If you do, then on occasion something unexpected might happen. At other times, nothing unexpected will happen at all. But what is truly important is that you are constantly giving yourself the opportunity to run into unique photographic opportunities. As the saying goes, “You’ll miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Metcalfe photographed with a Canon EOS6D and a 24-70mm, f/2.8L II USM lens.
Follow Tyler Metcalfe on Instagram @tylermetcalfe.