As a longtime photographer I am well aware of missed opportunities.
I have missed many good photos because I decided I would get to it later. In springtime it might be a dogwood blooming along a rustic fence line that I drive by and think, “I’ll stop tomorrow, the light will be better.” In the winter, it could be an old tobacco barn covered in newly fallen snow, serene and isolated in the cold beauty of its surroundings.
There are many elements that separate a snapshot from a photo, chiefly composition and lighting. While a photographer can easily control composition, oftentimes the proper lighting, especially outdoors, is a matter of timing. Early mornings and an hour or so before sunset, when the light is golden and directional, are my favorite times to shoot. Problem is, I am usually either busy at those times, or when I am not, I fall into the trap of “I’ll get to that tomorrow.”
But photography, at its essence, is capturing a moment in time. And time waits for no man.
It’s not long before the blooms fall from the dogwood or the snow melts and the moment for the perfect photo passes.
That’s why when the opportunity presents itself, a good photographer grabs that moment, even if it is inconvenient or it might not be the perfect moment, because it’s better than missing it.
Grabbing opportunity is a lesson that applies to more than photography, though. It also applies to life.
That’s why, a couple Fridays ago, I seized the opportunity to spend the day with my son, Silas, in his kindergarten class.
His school has a program that allows dads to come spend the day, and he had been asking me since August when I was going to be a Watch D.O.G. A photo album lies in the school’s office, and on days when I would walk him in he would always stop and leaf through the photos of other dads and their children who had had their portraits taken together as part of the program.
“We’re going to be in there someday, daddy,” Si would always say.
It was a big deal to him. Just the thought would plant a smile on his face as I walked him to his classroom. And I would always promise him we would be in that album, at the same time thinking of all the things I had to get done at work that week, and always thinking that the next week, or the next month, would be a better time.
This went on through the fall, into winter and before long it was spring. About the first of May, it suddenly dawned on me that this perfect opportunity I was waiting for, when it would be convenient or work with my schedule, was not going to arrive. So I finally set a day, and a couple Fridays ago, Si and I went to school.
When my wife asked me afterward how it went, the best description I could give was that it was heart-achingly sweet. No one has ever been prouder to have me at their side. I held his hand as we walked in line through the hallways. He introduced me to all his friends. I sat at his table while he worked on his writing and participated in his math station with him and his partner, spinning a counter and then placing lady bugs on leaves to add together.
It was one of the best days I have had in a very long time. And to think — I almost missed this opportunity.
Because just like a photo, this was a moment in time we were able to capture. There will probably come a time when he does not want me at school. I won’t be so cool then. That might seem like it’s a long way off now, but just like the seasons change before I am able to capture a photo, I don’t want to look back and think about the opportunity I missed.
That day provided me something much more precious than a photo to hang on a wall. It’s a moment in time that I captured that I will always keep in my heart.