“F8 and be there”— it’s a phrase used by photographers. Be at the right place, at the right time, with your camera in hand. F8 is a setting on the camera that refers to an aperture setting on the lens. But, it’s the “being there” that counts. I have been trying to capture a Grand Haven sunset since I moved to the area almost 10 years ago. The problem is that I live 10 miles inland, which makes the trek to the beach too long when inspiration strikes.
In July, I got an assignment for Michigan Travel Ideas to photograph the Grand Haven Pier. One of the suggestions was for a sunset shot. An idyllic Michigan Moment, if you will. There was no more leaving it to chance. The only way I could capture the image was to “be there” every night at sunset until I got the results. Easy gig, right? I went night after night for almost a week, but my quest was unsuccessful.
Part of the problem with getting a good sunset is the weather. Too foggy or overcast, and the sun may go behind the clouds at the crucial moment. Too clear, and the sun sometimes creates all kinds of flare. There needs to be just enough moisture in the air to act as a natural filter for the sun.
Saturday evening finally gave me the sunset I was waiting for—the conditions were just right. It was also early enough that I had time to get to the beach and shoot. There was one wrench in this otherwise ideal scenario. This particular night, this particular Saturday, these perfect shooting conditions fell on the busiest night Grand Haven sees all year. It was the apex of the Coast Guard Festival. Tens of thousands of people converge on our little town to see the fireworks. If you get lucky enough to get close to the pier, finding a parking spot is next to impossible. But I had to try.
I took every back road I could as I doglegged past streets of gridlocked cars. I even cut through a cemetery. Finally, I reached the pier parking lot. Ignoring the Lot Full sign, I somehow found a spot and ran to the pier. It was packed with visitors waiting for the fireworks. But people were exactly what I needed to add interest to the shot.
I found my spot on the beach and started clicking. The sun slipped behind the perfect amount of vapor. It was happening. I was getting my shot. Somehow everyone on the pier knew just where to stand. After all the previous evenings of failure, I finally got it. Although I didn’t use F8 on the camera, I got to “be there.”
Johnny Quirin is a freelance magazine photographer based in Grand Rapids. In addition to Michigan Travel Ideas, his clients include Grand Rapids Magazine, West Michigan Business Review and Michigan Blue.