Why you should always carry a camera.

The most common question all photographers get asked must be along the lines of -

"What is the best camera?" or "what camera should I get?"

I can never answer that because I don't keep up with photographic technology and everyone's needs are different. But if I tell people that they generally look disappointed and I hate that. So I send them off to look up popular camera review sites like dpreview or kenrockwell and leave them with the old adage that -

the best camera is the one you have with you.

Which for most people is the camera you have on your phone.

I got a clear demonstration behind that nugget of truth hidden in that cliche recently.

Location - Colter Bay Village, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming.

It had been raining on and off for much of the day, miserable conditions for camping. By late afternoon we were all getting a bit restless and decided to go for a walk down by the lake. We packed some rain jackets into a backpack and strapped the little one into his ergo-baby and set off.

I didn’t think the light would be good for landscape photography. The sun set behind the mountains and at this time of day they would be backlit.

I had a backpack full of jackets and water bottles and I didn't want to carry too much more. I had my phone to take family snapshots. I decided not take my analog Hasselblad and tripod and all the other bits of gear.

As we were heading out of the campsite I turned around and grabbed my favorite camera, the Fujifilm X100s, as an afterthought. It's compact and light and the image quality is great. I don't think it is weather sealed but I had never had any issues with it after a light sprinkling of rain.

I couldn't know then what a good decision I had made.

When we got to the lake our first glimpse of the mountains blew my mind.

The storm clouds were building over the most prominent peak, Mt. Moran. The peaks in the background were clear and lit from behind by the setting sun. The surface of the lake was smooth and glassy.

It immediately made me:

  1. regret not bringing the Hasselblad and tripod, and

  2. be grateful I brought the X100s.

landscape photography dark clouds tetons mountains national park lake jackson
Dark clouds massing over the Tetons in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, with Jackson Lake in the foreground

I thought for one second about runningback to the camp site and grabbing my Hasselblad.

Bitter experience has taught me that would be a mistake. By the time I got back the scene would have disappeared.

I focused on getting the best picture I could with the equipment I had. I walked along the lake shore trying to find some foreground other than the water to balance the background.

The wind picked up and the surface of the lake became more disturbed. The waves picked up and a couple of logs drifted by. I used them as foreground.

Rain showers marched down the valleys between the mountains on the far side of the lake.

The storm was heading in our direction which added some pressure as I had three kids and my wife right behind me and I didn't want them to get soaked.
storm clouds over mountains with lake in foreground
Heavy rain heading our way over the Tetons mountains and Jackson Lake. I might have left it a bit late!

I felt a couple of fat rain drops and decided that I had pushed it far enough.

We turned around and started heading back to the tent. The heavens opened and we started to run down the narrow lake side trail hopping over fallen trees. But we knew we would not make it without getting soaked. All five of us pushed into a small copse of fir trees and at that moment the rain became hail.

We waited there squeezed together in the shelter of the trees for what seemed like forever. In actual fact it was not more than 10 minutes before the sun started peeking out and the storm clouds cleared.

We walked back to the tent and I looked at the pictures on the screen on the back of the camera.

The image below was a contender but it felt like two logs made the foreground a bit too busy.

logs floating in lake with mountains in background
Logs drift by on Jackson Lake as storm clouds build over the Teton mountain range in the National Park.

The image below is the one I chose in the end.

Dark storm clouds over mountains with log floating in lake
Storm clouds over the Grand Tetons and Lake Jackson in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming. Buy Print

Although I like this (below) too. The nearly symmetrical clouds mirror the mountain itself.

color photograph of Storm cloud over grand teton mountains
Dark storm clouds brewing over Mount Moran in the Tetons Range in the Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

A gloomy day had been salvaged because I had my camera with me!