Behind the Shot

January 13th, 2014
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A picture is worth a thousand words, sure. But have you ever wondered what was reeling in the minds of the photographer as soon as they released the shutter? We asked several photographers to share their personal favorite shots and the stories behind them. From pulling all-nighters to capture the best lighting to traveling the corners of the globe to touching life tales of their subjects, here’s proof that there’s much more to a photo than simply pointing and shooting. Here, three seasoned photographers recount what it took to get that perfect shot.


Dan Ballard, Landscape and Travel Photographer, Colorado

“The first time I saw a photograph of Mt. Bromo I was blown away.  The scene really moved me, and I knew I had to photograph it. The image that I saw did not have fog in the valley, early morning side lighting, or the volcano erupting. That was what I wanted for my vision of an amazing photo. Unfortunately, finding the volcano erupting right at sunrise, with a valley full of fog (which only comes in occasionally), and a clear sky that was not full of ash was nearly impossible! I set up camp at a small hotel in an ash-covered town where most tourists stay one night at most. Every morning each surface had a quarter inch of new ash like fresh black snow. Every morning I dragged myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and into the ash. I would ride in a covered truck to the drop-off point and start the hike in the dark to my scouted location to wait. I did this every morning and every evening for seven days with a total of 14 trips with nothing to do all day in between.  Every day one of the elements would be present, but no shot. Finally, on the last day, everything came together and lined up perfectly for my dream shot. In that incredible moment as the extreme power of the volcano erupting mixed with the early morning light that just came over the valley, it was all worth it. It only lasted for about 20 seconds. “

Joy Nabors

Laura Tillinghast, Commercial and Editorial Photographer, San Francisco, CA

“I was very fortunate to be a part of the Raw Beauty Project in 2006. I was one of 10 photographers who were challenged to take portraits of women living with disabilities in an unexpected and at times provocative way. The idea was to help the public perceive the disabled community in a different way. I was paired with Joy Nabors, a woman living with MS since 1998. Joy opened my eyes to what living with disabilities really means. Even though she was confined to a wheelchair, she did not let that stop her from living her dream as a dancer. We put one of her favorite songs on the stereo and I lit her with a spotlight effect. Then she danced and danced until I had taken a hundred images or more. To say I was in awe of her would be an understatement. Her dancing was beautiful; her spirit was even more so. I will always cherish that experience as one of the best moments I have spent behind a camera.”


Peter Stanley, Wildlife Photographer, Tanzania

“Sometimes the best pictures are found directly behind you. On a weekend camping trip with a group of friends we decided to stop out in open grassland in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania, to enjoy a cold drink and watch the sunset. As my friend was giving a playful bow to the sunset, I thought it made for nice picture so I quickly picked up my camera and made that image. As I was sitting in the grass pointing my heavy 500mm sigma, another friend quietly said, “turn around, there is a curious giraffe that is coming right to you.” When I slowly turned the first thing I noticed was this incredible cloud glowing from the setting sun behind me… and this very curious giraffe. When I posted the picture on National Geographic’s Your Shot it was selected as a ‘photo of the day’ and featured on National Geographic’s home page. The image received 17,000 likes, and my biggest thrill came when I saw that one of Paul Nicklen’s images from his recent feature on manatees was also a ‘photo of the day’ next to my giraffe photo. Nicklen is one of my all time favorite photographers, and his dedication, style and purpose is a huge inspiration.”

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