10,000 Frames to Make One. What’s Wrong with Me?

In Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Craft, The Life Creative, Thoughts & Theory, Wilderness by David66 Comments

I loaded my gear into my truck last week and headed 12 hours north to the mouth of the Chilko River, my first trip since the amputation. I drove the same route a year ago, through towering mountains and golden aspens, my mind less on the bears I would photograph and more on the looming surgery. If I didn’t change my mind, I’d have my leg removed below the knee in a few months. I spent that entire drive trying to calm the voices in my head, the ones asking if I was crazy, the ones wondering if I’d ever drive this kind of trip again or actually do the things I was replacing my foot to be able to do in the first place. What if you can’t? What if you don’t? What if you are?

Today, almost four months to the day since my surgery, I’m in my definitive socket. I’m off to the gym this morning so my trainer can work out some of her aggressions. And as I made that 12-hour drive last week, I camped along the way and climbed the ladder to the top of my truck to sleep in the rooftop tent. This year, the voices were saying, you can! You will! You aren’t.

Like so many things—photography, even—success is a journey of small steps. Many, many small steps. And how faithful we are with them is more important than that we take big steps.

For example, I’ve photographed bears for years, and I’m beginning to look for new approaches and ways to avoid repeating myself. On my last trip to Kenya, I photographed rhinos low and close, my camera protected in a borrowed cage  and triggered with a remote. I found some success with that and wondered if I could approach the bears in a similar way. I had a cage fabricated from aluminum to protect the camera (mostly from rhinos and elephants, but I thought perhaps from bears chomping down as well). I bought a smaller Sony camera (a6600) and a cheaper wide-angle zoom lens, mostly just in case the bears were to knock the camera into the water—better my a6600 than a much more expensive a1. And then, I showed up at the river and got to work.

The learning curve was discouraging. The range of the signal needed to trigger the camera from my phone was almost unusable. I’d worked around this in Kenya, but in this setting, it was even more challenging as we fought against the current to keep the boat in one place while waiting for bears to walk past. And when they did, the camera didn’t fire because the energy-saving settings had turned it off. Pull the camera back and change settings. Reset the camera. Bears approach, then they turn away because the shutter freaked them out. Of course it did. Pull the camera, put it into silent mode, and reset. Again. Then the bears approach from the wrong direction. Then the light’s wrong. With each reset, I took a small step forward.

Those small steps were not victories themselves so much as the lessons I’d need to learn to get to that victory.

Eventually, we found a spot to set up on shore, tucked into a curve in the river only meters from our tents, and with no need for a boat. Other problems solved, I could sit and wait all day as bear after bear passed by. I could retrieve the camera, check my results, and then reset it, perhaps changing the composition or exposure settings. And in the long silent moments between bears, make notes about how I can improve this process for next time. Bear after bear went by until I finally had my moment, quietly calling to the bear to let her know I was there. “Hey, bear…” She looked up at me, waited a beat, and I pressed the shutter. She ambled on.

Every effort towards something new and untried is fragile. It can fall apart the moment we don’t take the next step, the moment we don’t learn from the previous one and build upon it.

Frustrating? To be sure. But not a failure. A lesson. “Oh, so that’s what I need to do!” And we hit reset and try again. New angle, new setting, new moment, new light. A great photograph is a precarious thing, at risk of never happening should we stop too soon or think, “This isn’t working” rather than, “How can I work this?”

In the end, I got a couple of images I like, but only one photograph I LOVE. One photograph out of 10,000 frames. But it’s enough. It thrills me with the encounter it represents. And it gets me excited about my next efforts. One of the biggest problems was the range of the connection between the camera and my iPhone. That’s not something I could solve in the moment, but in the days since, I’ve researched, ordered, and now tinkered with a Cam Ranger 2. Much better. One more problem solved; one step closer to a process that works. If you’re considering any kind of remote work, the Cam Ranger 2 seems worth looking at.

This is the one image that makes my heart sing. I’ll take one image that does that over 24 images where I try to convince myself aren’t too bad any day.

Writing it out, this all seems so simple, so step-by-step. But in the messy middle of the creative process, it is anything but simple. It’s exasperating. And the constant setbacks are often heartbreaking.

In the time I’ve taken to write this, I’ve been to the gym and back. Perhaps I pushed myself too hard, because my right leg is so sore I can’t get it into my prosthetic without a lot of pain and cussing and being on the verge of tears. So here I am, reminded that for all my romantic notions of embracing the process, it can be really f*cking hard to put your whole self into something and feel like it’s all three steps forward and two steps back. Keep at it. It’s still a net gain of one step forward. That’s progress. Sometimes you can’t even see the progress because you’ve taken two steps back, and it’s only on the strength of the next lesson learned that you’ll take three forward. The important thing is that you not give up.

You don’t need 100 great photographs. You need one that proves you’re getting closerone photograph that gives you hope when things feel anything but hopeful.

Feeling frustrated? Stalled? Stuck? Take one step, see where it leads, then take another. This is a craft of a thousand single steps, not shortcuts. You’ve got this.

For the Love of the Photograph,

P.S. Comments, questions? Leave them below. I’d love to talk about it.


  1. This post is a powerful reflection on the journey of resilience and determination. The author’s experience of traveling to photograph bears after a leg amputation is truly inspiring. It highlights how success often involves taking small, persistent steps forward, even in the face of challenges. The parallel drawn between the author’s journey and the process of photography adds depth to the narrative. A reminder that progress is made through perseverance.

  2. Hi David, I came back to this post because I just spent three hours and 750+ frames (oops) photographing sandhill cranes, mostly marginal due to distance (a lot of frame sequences to try to capture the cranes dancing and such), and I’ve spent hours just getting rid of over half of them that were too much of the same thing all over again. HOW do you deal with going through so many photos while looking for the ONE (or the few)?

    On the bright side, in the process of “quickly” scanning through them all, I did find some hints for what might make more interesting shots NEXT time I visit the migrating cranes. In the spirit of “sketches” I do realize that’s a bit of encouragement. Thanks for sharing the challenges you face and encouraging the rest of us!

  3. Hi David,
    Life is so challenging. And we white Canadians are on the top of the heap. But…
    Your image is great.
    Reminds me so much of when I was travelling alone in Nepal.
    I didn’t REALLY want to trek, but..
    I felt the pressure of returning home to my hiking friends in Calgary.
    So, I eventually started a trek. Of course I got diarrhea.
    Somehow, one night in the field that was the toilet, I decided it was the most beautiful one in the world.
    I literally decided to take just one step.
    And one step. I really was ready to turn back.
    It became a life lesson for me… and I did make Annapura Base Camp… and back.
    Take care,

  4. Thanks David. Great photo and fantastic story. It is amazing what we can do if we are passionate. I have never though about taking photos of a bear. In Australia we have to be careful with the snakes, but that are only in the grand and you won’t need to run away…
    Anyhow, thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  5. Never have I followed a person more determined and passionate about their craft than you. I am 72 years old and love photography but because of a disabled wife I can’t get out much anymore. But I will never give up. I have around 50000 images in my library and have much post processing to do. It might be frustrating at times but rewarding in the end. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  6. Hi David, really pleased to hear that your fears about the operation and the future are not playing out as true. You are a brave and determined man (as shown by your persistence in overcoming all kinds of difficulty).

    And yes, great bear pic too. 😀

  7. Dear David . I have been following your story for some time now and in doing so I am awestruck by the tenacity of your spirit and your determination. Your courses, your story – telling ability , and your photography inspire me to to stop and pause before I take a photo and ask” what would
    David do right now?” The example you set for all your followers is both spectacular and humbling.

    I would also l like
    You know the manner in which you inspired
    Me this year . I came home from
    Tanzania in January with 30,000 images
    After a 10 day safari. I purchased ‘Beyond the Shutter’. I had never used collections before and now they are a consistent part of my workflow. I had printed images in the past (from a photo lab) but when I took them
    To an actual printer , Royce Howland, the learning curve took my photography to a new
    Level. I have printed yearly calendars to raise money for suicide awareness (my own son
    Died in 2011). But this year I took a
    Really big leap out of my comfort zone. I registered with the Exposure 2024 Photography Festival held every year in Calgary. This coming February I am holding my first exhibition as part of Exposure s 20 th year anniversary. All of this would not have happened without your “push “. So I say with a great deal
    Of gratitude, for the inspiration and confidence to put myself out there , which came from you. It has truly made a difference in my life. From
    The bottom of my heart , I thank you. Sincerely

  8. Thank you once again for the inspiration you are in life and art. I really needed this pep talk, as I just finished processing a (very) casual shoot with my kids in the mountains capturing fall colors with them. After culling the 350 images down to 176 that were worth processing, I don’t know if I ended up with even one that made my heart sing because of the photograph and not just because of the subject(s). Maybe I needed to take 30x more pictures, lol! At any rate, I admit that I learned from this experience, and next time, hopefully, those “lessons” will keep me from making the same mistakes and the results will provide different lessons to learn from.

  9. ALL of your emails, and writings touch me profoundly. This one really spoke to me deeply and for the weirdest reason brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for giving voice to the victories, the short-lived defeats, and the successes that we all experience.

    1. Hi David
      I have followed your journey and recovery with awe. You give me hope for the obstacles I have yet to overcome. And hope for the improvement in my photography that is forthcoming…. I have seen it !!! Finally. It truly is a series of small steps. Even if i want it to be a huge jump to greatness. The satisfaction of one really good shot takes patience and a lot of practice.
      The words that you share are great encouragement and hold great truth.

      1. Author

        Thank you for that kind encouragement, Diane! And congratulations on the progress. Yes, we all want a big jump, but I’m not sure we’d know what to do once we took it. We need the step before to make sense of the next step. Baby steps, I hate to say it, are necessary. Many of them, and often, is what gets us where we end up. You’ve got this! 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you, Scott. I’m very pleased with it. I showed my mother and she had already read my blog post and replied with, “Yes, you seem to really like that one.” 😳 I guess even her standards are higher than mine. I said, “Well, what do you think of it?” and she told me it was nice. So there you go. I guess not everyone likes bears the way I do. LOL. Hope you’re well!

  10. Hi David. what an inspiring story and photo. I always enjoy your posts reading about your strength under difficult circumstances. Trust you can keep enjoying your photography and writing to inspire us all. Regards Ron.

  11. I loved this story David, thanks for sharing. And the image of the bear that makes your heart sing… awesome!!

    1. David you are an inspiration, not just as a photographer but as a human being, thank you. Both my wife and I took a leaf from one of your books when we visited Venice and experienced the ‘Blue” hour. Jill was not to keen getting up before sunrise, but loved the silent streets and all it provided once we were out.
      Of the many photographers on line, I only follow 2, Yourself and Anthony Morganti, another solid unselfish human being 🙂 You both bring joy to this southern part of Africa.

      1. Author

        Really appreciate that, Rex. My apologies to your wife, but I’m with you – it’s worth the early call time! Thank you for your very kind words.

    2. Author

      Thank you so much for that, Jennifer. Singing hearts is what I’m after. 🙂

  12. Thank you David for sharing your journey with us. Your residence and perseverance and are a true inspiration.
    You are a most eloquent writer and narrator and a pretty good photographer (😂) too. Thanks for all you do for the love of the craft

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Kristin. The honour is mine. What a gift to be able to connect with so many wonderful people. Thank you.

  13. As always, there are some real gems in this post, David. I’m not even a photographer. But I still read everything you write because it inspires me, teaches me an important life lesson, and validates my own experiences.

    Thanks so much for being David.

  14. Hi David, Yes, that is progress, Congratulations on this recent adventure and thank you for your willingness to share your many gifts as it allows others to learn, grow and advance. Perhaps what I enjoy most about reading your articles is your ability to articulate the heart of the matter. It is so easy to get lost in the minor details and lose sight of the bigger issues.

  15. I lived on the Olympic Peninsula for 25 years. Every year I would take thousands of pictures of eagles without much success. As I got better at my bird photography I got better eagle pictures until I got to the point where I had a few photos that made my heart sing. But all the other pictures that weren’t so good also made me remember what a beautiful place I was in when I took the pictures.

    1. Author

      There’s a diminishing return, isn’t there? Feels like it takes less and less for me to find the joy theses days, unless the joy is a photograph I haven’t made yet, something that’s new and different and resonates – and then it takes more and more. 😂

  16. I love everything about that bear photo. The light, the expression on the bear’s face, the details. It’s fantastic.

    Thanks for this message. It arrived a moment when it was exactly what I needed to hear.

    Be well.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Joan. I’m very pleased with this photograph. It makes me so hungry for more experiences like this. Thank you for your comment. 🙏

  17. David,
    Another great photograph accompanied by a great story. It is so applicable to all life’s situations that various people might find themselves in. It seems to always come at just the right time for somebody out there. Thank you for sharing and encouraging other people whom you do not even know. It is very valuable.

    Best wishes
    Elise Naudé

    1. What an incredible journey David! Both your personal journey and also to photograph the bears! Can relate with walking an incredible distance in the dark to get a sunrise and it doesn’t happen! Your persistence is amazing! Keep at it you are inspirational!

    2. Author

      I love getting notes like this. Thank you, Elise. It’s nice to make photographs I love but even more important to me to write words that make a difference. Thank you! 🙏🙏🙏

  18. David I love your stories. So honest and from your heart. That is what makes it inspiring. I have followed you for quite while amoung others. I don’t often read everthing but when you wote aboout your accident it caught my eye. I couldn’t imagine the pain and fear you had to battle. Thank you for being venerable and sharing your journey. Truely inspiring.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Stephanie. I find being vulnerable easy because of the people (like you) who read my words without judgment. Vulnerability online is a rare and hard thing but I’m so lucky to be surrounded by lovers instead of haters. It makes it so much easier. 🙏

  19. Great shot, David! It’s fantastic to see you getting back out there. Regarding your setup, I have dabbled with similar things for years and have modified an old Aquatech housing to be my bearproof container. For triggering, I found the Pocketwizard to be a great solution. It is even more straightforward than the Camranger, and the useable range is hundreds of meters in good conditions. If you ever find any limitations with your new setup, I’d say the Pocketwizards should be next on your list to experiment with.

    1. Author

      Hey Dan! Thank you. I have thought about PWs but I like the ability to preview things and even check that things are working by reviewing what I’ve made without having to return to the camera. But I’ve got some old PWs and might give this a try at some point. BTW, I’m driving through WH next year on the way north – I’ll be with Corwin. Maybe we can get a meal together?

  20. Once again, thank you for the inspiration and sharing such personal thoughts and feelings. The way in which you weave everything together in your posts and make your narrative pertinent to photography is very helpful.

  21. Your journey through this surgery and recovery is worthy of a book, not just for photographers, but for anyone who struggles with, and fears a difficult choice. I hope you are planning a book for the general public. It is truly inspiring.

    Just last week I stopped at Watkins Glen, NY after a 65th HS reunion in Rochester. My husband patiently waited at the entrance while I walked and climed hundreds of steps to photograph the many falls and the gorge. As I made this climb I realized that this is exactly why, at 83 yrs old, I exercise and walk daily. The carrot on the stick is being able the capture photos in a challenging situation. You have your own ‘carrot’ and we all reap the reward of how you have met the challenge. Thank you!

    1. Author

      You’re very kind, Susan. Thank you! (And your husband is very patience. Props to him!). It’s the hope of being able to do exactly as you described in another 20-30 years that keeps me pushing forward, going to the gym, and not giving up. Thank you for that. What an inspiration. 🙏🙏🙏

  22. I’m so happy for you, sitting up there watching your bears go by, after fearing that you might never be able to sit there again.

  23. Thank you, David, for this. Your words are exactly what I needed today. I’m applying them not only to my photography, but also to my current journey into watercolour painting, which is bringing a whole new set of backwards steps and frustrations. Thanks for the reminder that just one photo – or one painting – proves I’m making progress.

    1. Hello David, thank you very much for this participation at your thoughts and fears and your process! I love your bear-photos I have seen on facebook.!!😍
      Did you have no fear that a bear could attack you?
      Your thinking about the photographing process encourages me and helps me to stay concentrated taking photos. There are no bears – but sometimes our dogs, street or abstract photos…..
      Thank you again for the video courses I work through at the moment. Your admonitions which you repeat again and again – they make that I take my photos with much more mindfullness – very often your voice in my ears😂😂

      Enjoy your life David!
      With best wishes from Normandie at the moment – here is summer with 27 celsius.

      1. Author

        Thank you, Beate. Bears are powerful and wild and are to be respected, but also understood. Bears in this context want one thing: to eat salmon. They have no interest in us, and as long as we don’t surprise them or stress them, they’ll just keep looking for salmon and eating them. I find bears (in this context) to be worthy of my awe, my love and my respect, not my fear.

    2. Author

      Thank you, Kiyomi. The other thing I think often is this: we take another step, and then another, and while we sometimes think it’s a step backwards, we really can only judge that in hindsight, much further down the road. More important that we take the step than worry if it’s forwards or not. 🙂

  24. First of all, what an epic image.
    Secondly, I reallllly needed this message right now. Your timing is impeccable.
    I love what you do and thank you for sharing your journey, not only are you a great photographer but your style of writing really draws me in. Thanks for the inspiration.

  25. David, congratulations on your trip back to the Chilko River – a major accomplishment that you must feel very proud of. And to get that incredible photograph has to be immensely satisfying after all the trials. As is so often the case, your comments apply to much more than photography, and continue to be an inspiration.

    1. Author

      Thank you, thank you, Thank you! I appreciate the encouragement so much, Mary Ellen. 🙏🙏

  26. You’ve got this!

    I can’t thank you enough for taking us along on your journey – both photographically and personally. Your insight always amazes me. Thank you for your openness and encouragement and for being so inspirational. We’re all stepping along with you.

    1. Author

      Means the world to me, Linda. I’ve never said so, but your avatar is fantastic. Makes me smile every time I see it. Thank you for being here. 🙏🙏🙏

  27. I’m stuck at home recovering from Covid (…grrr!!! )and enjoying catching up with a lot of reading . What a magnificent shot of “hello bear”! the low angle view made me want to hold my breath, afraid of disturbing the moment. An intimidating beast and an intimate photo. Love it.

  28. You worked hard to get there and get the shot, and succeeded…same David, just different bio-mechanics.

    1. Author

      Ha. Thanks for that, Jamie. True, same David. Though this is changing me. Making me softer, ever more grateful, and also more determined and resilient. Every hard thing I go through seems to focus me even more on what matters. It’s hard won, but I think that’s a gift of immeasurable value.

  29. Thank you David. This has really resonated with me and as is often the way with your blogs, it’s not just helping me with my photography mindset but also my life mindset! I’ve just started therapy and it’s definitely two steps forward, one step back. Thanks for reminding me that’s still progress!
    Rest up,

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