Shooting the sunrise on Topsail Island, North Carolina, can be a magical experience, but sometimes the weather and lighting conditions don’t align with your expectations. On a particularly humid morning, I encountered this exact scenario. The sunrise at 5:58 AM was shrouded in a thick haze, and the lack of billowing clouds left the sky a monotonous orange. Initially, it seemed like the shoot would be a bust.

41 shots in 44 seconds

41 shots in 44 seconds

However, about 15 minutes after the sunrise, I noticed a small sandpiper hunting for its breakfast in the shallow surf. The bird stood in the direct reflection of the sun on the wet sand, creating a captivating scene. Over the next 30 seconds, I took 41 photos of the sandpiper as it moved back and forth. The high tide was coming in, and the surf was choppy with mist blowing off the waves, adding a dynamic element to the composition.

As I continued shooting, my plan began to develop. I aimed to create a three-part composition featuring the sun, a crashing wave with mist in the middle, and the sandpiper at the bottom. After the bird flew away, I wasn’t sure if I had captured anything worthwhile. It wasn’t until I reviewed the photos a day or two later that I realized the 34th image perfectly encapsulated what I was looking for.

This experience underscores the importance of perseverance in photography. Even when conditions aren’t ideal, keep shooting and composing. Sometimes, the most unexpected moments yield the best results. Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer, said it best,

“The difference between a good frame and a great frame is measured in millimeters not miles”​​​​.[1]

This quote reminds us that small adjustments and a keen eye for detail can make all the difference in capturing that perfect shot.

Even when things don’t go as planned, keep your camera ready, be open to the unexpected and persevere. Great photos often come from the moments you least anticipate. As a photographer, understanding your own composition process and being adaptable can turn a seemingly ordinary scene into something extraordinary. By focusing on the details and making those small adjustments, you can transform a lousy day into a good photo.