Planning, Patience and Timing – Toronto, ON

Great pictures rarely just happen. They take planning, patience and timing. They also take a little luck. I try to drill this lesson into the heads of my students so they understand those great photos you see on 500px or Pixoto don’t just happen – they are anticipated and planned for.

I thought this weekend I was right on track for shooting sunrise over the Toronto skyline. The day before I shot the skyline at noon in harsh bright light and thought it would be a good way to illustrate why getting up in the morning really was important. The problem was when I shot at that day, I was on a boat. I needed to find a similar location that didn’t require a vessel or me learning to walk on water. So I started researching.

I found a location I thought would work. There is a large set of silos on the western edge of the waterfront (the Canadian Malting Co silos for all of those interested) that jut out into the water at an angle that was close to what I had on the boat. I saw pictures taken from a small sculpture park right on the edge of the water. Bingo I now had my location.

I checked the weather and sunrise times. I’m still getting used to how early the sun rises here compared to Florida so I almost said no when I realized I’d need to leave my house at 4:20 AM to be there in time to set-up. But the weather looked great and it was a holiday so I packed up my bag the night before, went to bed early and left right on time.

So far I had anticipated the shot I wanted. I had planned the shot I wanted. I had researched the area to bring the plan into vision. Everything was lining up nicely. Only that never seems to work exactly like you hoped. Enter patience timing and luck.

Problem number one hit the moment I made it downtown. I needed to find a place to park but there were no nearby places that weren’t 20 dollars, cash. I should have planned my parking – in a city like Toronto you really need to have a clue where you are going to park or you end up walking for miles or paying a fortune. I figured 5:30 AM on a civic holiday would be easy. I figured wrong. I drove around so long I missed the “night” shots of the city.

I finally found a place, paid my 20 dollars and ran like mad (ok walked briskly) to get to the silos. Here’s were bad luck and insufficient planning kicked me in the ass. The silos are under construction and the only walkway I could see was fenced off. Now my timing was off and my location was wrecked. I had to make a choice – I could walk around the silos and see if I could get in from the other side or I could go the other way and get the skyline from a less than desirable angle. I had to pick quick because the sun was already climbing.

I picked the safe route. I found a spot nearby that worked reasonably well and shot. It wasn’t what I had planned for but it came out OK. I got lucky that the clouds were in a good position over the buildings to add some interest to the sunrise. Having a plan to start with though help  me make the choice whether to go safe or not.  My goal  was about light, not view. If I wasn’t sure what was important I may have debated so long that I missed both.

So in the end we always have to think on our feet, adapt to our surroundings and live in the moment. We can plan all we want but once you are there be flexible. Sometimes all the planning in the world can’t anticipate life. Could have done more research – sure. Would I have been happier with that photo? Who knows. I’ll try again someday. Until then, I’ll just enjoy the picture I did get.


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