It has probably happened to all of us—a missed photographic moment. We are photographers. We usually have a camera at the ready. But, for one reason or another, we miss a shot of a beautiful vista or a fleeting, but perfect, moment in time and we are left with nothing but the memory of the image that never was captured.
I asked my fellow B&H photographers, as well as our B&H Creative partners and affiliates, to share with us the heartbreaking story, or stories, of the photographs they have failed to capture.
“Hosting instructional photo tours is a great way to meet new people with a shared passion and to make new friends. Often, the new friends join future tours. While spending additional time with friends is great, they remember things.
“One morning, while leading a small group instructional photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park, we located a large bull elk. The elk was in an especially scenic environment but was not in the best position. The temperature was climbing, so I returned to the SUV to remove a layer of clothes.
“Upon return a few minutes later, I found the friends excited about the great opportunity they just had. The bull stepped out on a huge rock and majestically posed, and it was now, as you guessed from the topic of this article, already out of sight. I'm not sure if they were happier with their photos or being able to give me a hard time about missing that moment.
“While it is always painful to miss a great photo op, I was excited that they had captured it since that was the primary goal. However, remember the comment about friends joining future workshops and remembering things? The brain tends to push bad memories out, but these friends enjoy reviving that pain, and the entire group was back with me in Badlands National Park this spring. Ouch.”
“In the summer of 2020, the photography world was abuzz with Comet NEOWISE visible in the night sky. I had spent several evenings photographing this natural phenomenon from various locations around my hometown. On one of the last evenings that it was to be visible, I was excited to photograph NEOWISE from a mountain viewpoint overlooking the whole town. I envisioned the Comet shining bright over the town lights—surely an iconic photo. However, I was halfway up the hike to the viewpoint when I realized that I'd forgotten my tripod, an essential piece of equipment for a long exposure at night.
“Cursing, I continued on in hopes that I could figure out a makeshift tripod. Once at the viewpoint, a small layer of clouds covered NEOWISE, and any final hopes of capturing the image I'd planned were dashed. I didn't get another clear night while NEOWISE was visible, and the image still lives, untaken, in my brain to this day.”
Bob Coates via PhotoFocus — @bcoatesart
“Photograph with a plan, but take what nature gives you.
“It’s a great idea to photograph with a plan in mind. But don’t get so locked into it that you miss out on the abundant opportunities around you. Roll with the weather. Turn your head for your anticipated subject. Work the scene. You’ll come back with more winners from your photo outings.
“My apps told me that despite cloud cover, the sky would be clear during the time I wanted to photograph the Milky Way. The app was right. But I needed to use it a little better. Clear Outside app gives you a great report on the low, medium, high, and total cloud cover. Clouds parted over my head right on time. Unfortunately, the cloud cover to the south and west of me did not. Next time I’ll get the cloud forecast for towns to the south of me as well. No Milky Way that night. Lesson learned. But a nice image came out of the hike anyway.”
“The photo I missed: a nation's grief in Morocco.
“The river of people yelling sent tourists scurrying to the safety of their hotels and clambered up to the roof. Every street I saw in Meknes flowed with residents, a very public outpouring of grief, song, and tears. Without a thought, I ran downstairs, camera in hand. The beloved King Hassan II, who reigned over Morocco for 38 years, passed away. People were emotional.
“I moved with the crowds. On a cobblestone street in a picturesque part of Meknes, the crowd hoisted a distraught young man on their shoulders, lifting him high above the crowd. He was wrapped in a red flag with a star, the flag of Morocco. His eyes tearing, his face stuck out of the flag, which was now catching a breeze, flowing behind him. It looked gloriously sad, encapsulating how the crowd felt, the grieving of Morocco, all in one image. At one point, everyone lifted their fists in unity.
“I immediately aimed my camera, focused, and... nothing. I had turned off the camera. That fleeting moment had come and gone.”
Bridget Haggerty, B&H — @bhaggertyphoto
“Part 1: Out-of-Focus Locks
“Back when Obama was President, I had a weekly gig photographing a band and their fans in the Lower East Side. Always a good time. It was a fun crowd, and I loved the challenge of shooting in such low light. I would photograph all the requests off the shot list within the first hour. The rest of the night I reserved for creativity.
“One night there were these two dudes with luscious, curly, golden locks that almost touched their hips. With that hair how could you not head bang? I met them close to the stage, wide angle, timed it with a strobe light popping off the stage to get a clear exposure. A quick peek told me I had it! I was so excited. My glee evaporated when I saw the image on my desktop. The dudes were out of focus. It looked fine on the tiny screen, but I just kicked myself for days.”
“Part 2: M.I.L. Fail
“A couple hired me for courthouse wedding photos. They were bringing the groom’s mother, bride’s brother, and her 7-year-old son. Small group. We were going to take family shots at the park afterward.
“We all got along while waiting for the appointment. The young kid was pretty patient despite standing around in a tux with bow tie. I ran through the photos they wanted again. Were they exchanging rings? Any other part of the ceremony that might be special? They replied no, simply the vows and the ring exchange. The bride’s brother had the rings. The groom’s mother would watch the child. I was free to move around as much as I wanted.
“When we entered the room with the officiant, I asked if he was cool with me flitting around him and the couple. He said it was no problem; I had full reign. ‘Awesome, this is too easy,’ I thought. I grabbed a few shots from several vantage points and parked myself in a good spot for the rings and first kiss. The rings were exchanged and I saw the mother-in-law taking phone pics.
“I thought, ‘that’s helpful because they will have photos to post right away.’ That’s all I thought about it. But during the couple’s first kiss as bride and groom, the M.I.L. walked in front of me and took her own photos. Excuse me!? I panic smiled and joined in the congratulations. I asked them to kiss one more time and got the shot. They never knew. I even kept my dagger eyes in check for the family portraits.”
Chuck Capriola, B&H — @chuckxpics
“Some Fried Chicken, a Zebra, and a Pigskin: Or, My Tale of ‘The Shots I Missed’…
“Back in the late ’70s while in college (School of Visual Arts), I was sitting in a fried chicken place (back when I would eat fast food), eating my lunch between classes. The exterior wall of the restaurant was all glass, and I was sitting facing 2nd Avenue. I had just purchased a Kiron 70-210 f/4.5, my first zoom lens, and I was looking out onto the street, zooming in and out, quite pleased with myself. Directly across the street was a bank. As I was zooming in, someone came running out of the bank. They stopped, pulled out a pistol, turned around, and, as the bank guard came through the doors, fired his weapon (missing the guard). All seen through the viewfinder of my prized Black Nikon F Photomic FTN camera, which at that time had no film loaded in it. With all the tuition I paid, my most lasting memorable lesson was the cost of that lunch. Needless to say, I’ve never left home without a camera loaded with film or a digital camera with an empty memory card and a charged battery since.
“Years later, my young son began to play football in a youth league and parents were allowed to stay along the side lines during the game. My son’s position of choice was receiver and when he’d play that position, I’d set myself up behind the quarterback knowing if the ball was thrown to him, he’d turn around to face the QB. Shooting with Canon’s 7D and a 100-400mm lens, I was able to see his expression behind his facemask. I saw his eyes open, and I knew the ball was coming. I stood still, checked focus, and began to fire away knowing I’d get 1 or 2 shots as the ball came into his reach. His expression and the angle of his helmet looking up told me the ball was just out of view of the long telephoto I was using. And then I saw it, the zebra pattern. Now, for you mirrorless camera videographers, I am not referring to a digital camera’s zebra pattern. I am instead talking about the black and white striped shirt of the referee who stepped in front of me—also finding my vantage point the perfect location to call the scoring catch.
“When my son played high school ball, the games were more organized, and parents were not allowed on the field. I offered to take pictures of all the players and give them to the parents in exchange for being allowed to photograph from the sidelines. For some reason, during one game the coach had my son on defense as a cornerback. We scored a TD and in high school ball, a team can choose to either kick a field goal or run another play from the ten-yard line. Most teams opt to run a second play. I saw the opportunity to get some pictures of the lineman since I was so close, just behind the goal post. I set up my Nikon D7100 and 24-120mm lens, pre-focused, and when I heard the play calls I began firing away, hoping to get a glimpse of the offensive line in action since they are usually piled up on top of each other. If lucky, I’d get the running back busting through the line, leaping into the end zone. I heard the recognizable sound of the ball hitting a shoulder pad’s chest plate and then the game whistle, so I knew the play was over and based on the high fives, assumed we had gotten the extra point. And then I heard my son’s voice who was standing right next to me holding the football he had just caught: “DAD! Did you get that?” While focused (both my attention and camera) on the shots I had planned on making, I had not seen the coach send in my son for the play, nor did I see the pass or the catch. I can still hear his voice and see the glowing smile under his facemask to this day.”
Deanna Testa, B&H — @dmtesta
"As a video producer, I've had the pleasure of working with some incredible celebrities over the years! But earlier in my career, I made a conscious effort to not ask for selfies or capture any BTS shots on set, for fear of being seen as too eager or unprofessional. But, as social media has evolved and career content has transformed, I realized I missed many opportunities to build my own community! I could have shared valuable content that other video creators, influencers, and industry contacts might have found helpful. So, moving forward, I'm trying to be more transparent and share content that can inspire, educate, or uplift folks."
Levi Tenenbaum, B&H — @ibelevi
“A friend asked me to photograph their first son’s bris. It’s the time a Jewish male is brought into the covenant, and as you can imagine, it was a big deal for the young couple. Now, I usually dump all my cards the same day, directly into Lightroom, backups, the whole shebang.
“Fast forward to the end of the week and I’m lying in the sand on a beach, photographing a toddler romping around in designer basics with overly large balloons. It was a blast. The sky was blue with beautiful clouds. I was clicking as fast as my camera would allow me to and I was down to my last card and without thinking, I formatted it in the camera and kept on snapping those images. The brand was stoked. I had gotten some really fun images.
“The next day, I was looking through my catalogue to find the bris photos… and yup, you guessed it. Worst feeling ever! Made even worse by the fact that my friend was relying on me to take the photos of this special moment… GULP. There is no happy ending, just forgiveness, and an extra special check for any images that might not be offloaded.”
Josh Brown, B&H — @xxjoshbrownxx
“About ten years ago, I was in Florida, on a fan boat tour of the Everglades. About 50 yards in front of the boat was an alligator sunning on a rock, just a few feet from the channel we were headed down. The driver saw the gator and slowed down so we could take pictures. Half of the passengers on the boat panicked and shrank back while the other half got their cameras out. I already had decent photos of gators because I had a telephoto lens for it—but being this close to a gator would give me a great opportunity to take a video with my phone and its relatively wide-angle lens. I set my phone to slow-motion video to get a smoother shot. Just as we slowed to an almost stop, the driver spotted another alligator swimming up to the rock. He told us that alligators were territorial and would almost certainly start a fight. So for the sake of safety, we had to leave immediately. I quickly pressed the record button on my slow-motion video app and held the phone out of the boat with one arm to get just a bit closer to the gator. The driver slammed the throttle forward just as we were passing the rock. As we sped up, the gator burst out of the water with a splash and lunged toward the gator on the rock, snapping its jaw. It was magnificent. Seeing it in person from the boat was impressive, but my phone was mere feet from the action. This was going to be epic. After congratulating myself for thinking to set the video to slow motion, I pressed the record button again to stop recording. Glancing at the phone’s screen I saw that the video was still recording. How could that be if I had just stopped recording? Did I miss the button to stop recording? Had I double tapped the button to start a new recording? Or did I miss that incredible shot because my clumsy thumb missed the record button? I searched the app for the video, but it wasn’t there. I had been too preoccupied with framing to notice my mistake until it was too late. Today, if I’m recording video, if I have a moment, I’ll start recording before the action starts, and take a moment to make sure it’s recording.”
Thomas Simms, B&H
“Broadway at 54th street was closed to traffic and barricades were up along both sides of the street. ‘Waiting for Obama to arrive,’ someone told me. I thought, ‘Why not stay and see if I can catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of the President.’ The Presidential limo pulled up in front of where I and about a dozen people were standing. Barack Obama walked up to the barricade and shook hands with the person next to me. I had my phone framed for the perfect picture as soon as he turned in my direction. Then, I saw him look right at me with his hand out. I quickly put the phone down and stuck my hand out. I was too late; he moved on to the next person. I missed both the shot and the handshake. That image of Barack Obama looking at me and then making eye-contact through my phone screen only exists in my memory, but it's a photographic lesson: either go for the photo or go for the experience—do not try for both simultaneously.”
Matthew Emond, B&H — @emondphoto
“The shot I missed wasn’t because I didn’t take the photo—it’s because I didn’t nail the photo. My wife and I spent two weeks traveling around Italy on our honeymoon. It was Murphy’s Law that skies were overcast nearly the entire trip (so I was constantly missing shots with interesting lighting). Still, I managed to get a lot of good shots from the trip, but it’s one of my favorites that haunts me to this day.
“There was a photograph in Tuscany that I liked the most. It wasn’t until I was home that I realized I had messed up the focus. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to miss the focus on this one. The image is sharp enough on a phone but if you zoom into the photo, it’s abundantly clear I missed the shot, rendering it unprintable, in my opinion. I’m still not sure how my image was soft. I shot that handheld at 1/250th with a 24-70, so there shouldn’t have been camera shake. It’s still a mystery to me. I swear one day I’m going to go back to that exact spot and take that photo again. It would have made for a nice print.
“From now on, if I’m taking a photo of a static subject and know it’s something special, I’ll try and make sure to zoom into the photo and double check the focus before moving on. Not that I needed another excuse to travel back to Italy, but this is definitely one of them.
Todd Vorenkamp, B&H — @trvphoto
Eight missed photos haunt me to this day…
Thanksgiving weekend on a crowded Amtrak train out of New York City. There were no seats. I was crammed in the vestibule between two cars with a handful of other travelers. When the train was going over the Triboro Bridge east of Manhattan, the conductor opened the sliding door to give us a gorgeous panoramic view of the NYC skyline at sunset. My Nikon 6006 was packed in my bag.
Walking to a terminal at JFK airport, I looked up to see a gorgeous Boeing 747—the Queen of the Skies—taking off into the huge fireball of the setting sun. In my mind’s eye, the plane and sun were so much closer than they probably were in real life. No camera.
The Nikon D100’s reflex mirror broke the very day that Operation Iraqi Freedom started. I was at sea without a camera. That day, I walked into the logistics office on the USS Rainier and six fellow officers were facing me—staring over my head at a television. Army General Franks was giving a briefing. No one even noticed that I had walked into the room, and I could have captured an incredible image preserving the moment had my camera not been broken.
I had an early morning “first light” launch in a Boeing CH-46D Seaknight from Naval Air Station North Island where we were scheduled to pick up some dignitaries. As we taxied to the terminal at sunrise, I passed two US Air Force F-15C Eagles who had just started their engines. The beautiful fighters had their position lights glowing, canopies open, and the engine exhaust was shimmering in the warm, early morning light. It was too dark to get a photo—and we were in a rolling and vibrating helicopter—so any attempted photo would have not come out. No time to stop to smell the jet fuel.
Another sunrise flight in the CH-46 had me running passengers from the USS Nimitz to Honolulu, Hawaii. After we dropped our passengers off at the general aviation terminal, we rolled out to a taxiway right in front of a taxiing UPS Boeing 747 beautifully lit by the rising sun. I was pulling my camera out to get the shot when the aircraft commander told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was not time to be taking photos and to pay attention to the tasks at hand.
A Mexican restaurant in Eureka, CA, had four windows facing a highway—all illuminated with different colors of neon beer logos. Off to the side, these stucco rectangles glowed in pastel colors. I drove by often and just as I was about to convince myself to finally get an incredible abstract photo, the restaurant went out of business and the windows went dark. Procrastination cost me.
After the tragic crash of USCG helicopter 6505 in Hawaii, I flew in the photo aircraft for a wreath dropping ceremony and a flyover of the memorial service. I was sitting in the right seat to photograph the wreath drop and had put my camera away for the formation flyover. The aircraft commander, in the left seat, was flying the aircraft and we went into a banking left turn over the air station. Through the cockpit windows, I was treated to a panoramic view of an HH-65C flying over a ramp with hundreds of well-wishers looking skyward at us as we flew past.
Taking off in a commercial airliner from SFO for a quick trip to Portland, OR, I had decided to travel light, and my camera was in the overhead compartment in my backpack. We turned left as we climbed over San Francisco Bay and, below, the setting sun cast the shadow of the SF skyline over the shimmery golden waters of the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge at the top of the frame.
Share Your Thoughts
Now it’s your turn for a confession or therapy! What photograph(s) have you missed? Tell us in the Comments section, below!