Ask James – Missing The Shot

How do you feel when/if you miss THE shot? (either miss it because of timing or incorrect settings).


It’s one of the worst feelings in the world for a photographer. I hate it and want nothing to do with it! Last year I was out storm chasing with my buddy Mike Mezeul and Kelly DeLay. We really didn’t get any incredible shots of storms that day but after the sun had set and darkness approached, we found ourselves chasing down a storm near Throckmorton, Texas. The storm was moving fast, around 55mph and was beginning to weaken, so we stopped chasing at that point because we found ourselves in front of one of the most incredible lightning storms I’ve even seen. On one side of the road, the clouds were putting out lightning known as “anvil crawlers” every 1-2 seconds. These are lightning bolts that never reach the ground and instead seem to crawl horizontally across the clouds and spread out like tree branches. On the other side of the road, there were “CG” strikes (cloud to ground) around once or twice a minute. In addition to that, it was toward the very end of blue hour so the sky still had color to it.

We were all set up in similar directions, waiting for the perfect strike to happen in front of our cameras. After capturing a few smaller strikes, it began raining a bit. Nothing heavy, just a drizzle. At that point, I pulled my shirt up and wiped off the lens. After I had all the droplets off the lens, I started the next exposure. Then, BOOM! Right in the field we were all pointing at a massive strike with three separate bolts hit the ground. Mike and I were jumping up in the air, yelling and high-fiving each other in excitement when we looked at the back of our cameras after the exposures.

After that, the strikes began moving over the road we were on. Perfect! Lightning strikes, a road and a car trail would be epic. The first shot I tried had a car coming down the road, and right toward the end of my 30 second exposure a strike lit up the scene. I was absolutely ecstatic! I looked at the back of my camera and was overcome with joy and excitement. These were absolute, no-brainer portfolio pieces.

I think you can guess where this is going…

Right when I got home that night, I imported the images into Lightroom to examine them and maybe even process one or two. After the import, I looked at one of the first, smaller strikes in the field. It was perfectly sharp. Nice!



Then, I scrolled over to the first huge strike that had me jumping up and down. It looked great on the thumbnail too, so I zoomed in. And that’s when it happened. My jaw hit the floor. It was soft. Everything was just a bit out of focus. NO! My stomach turned and I felt nauseous.


Ok, there’s no saving this. Maybe the one with the car trail is still sharp. I scrolled over, zoomed in and waited for the full sized version to load. CRAP. It was useless.



I can tell you definitively, those were the absolute most gut wrenching shots I’ve ever missed. I was “kid in a candy store” excited about those shots when I got them. The whole drive home I was glowing. So getting home and seeing that I’d never be able to use them was heart-breaking to say the least.

So what happened? I wiped the rain droplets off my lens, without refocusing my camera. You can’t focus your camera at night with auto-focus, so I usually use a flashlight or remaining ambient light to focus on my subject (or where it’s going to be) and leave my focus there in manual mode. When I wiped those rain drops off my lens, the pressure I applied shifted the focus (it was a zoom lens) just out of range. It was total oversight on my part, so there’s nobody or nothing to blame but myself. The irony that I have an ebook called “Tack Sharp” was not missed, I assure you ;-).


  1. Just knowing that the shot can’t be re-created exactly the same stings a little.
    As a hobbyist, it makes me feel better that even the pros can have those days too… All part of the learning process for all of us.

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