It can happen to anyone. Getting skunked is part of photography if you depend upon something outside of your control to make the shot. Fortunately, I know how to cope with getting skunked.
It's just a term that means you didn't get the result you wanted. Call it what you like. Sometimes the stars just don't line up in your favor.
Does that mean you go home without a photograph? It could, and that's not always a bad thing. I know folks who have a single-minded determination and it works for them. If they can't get the shot they want, then they will just try again on another day. On the other hand, you can try to be a bit more flexible.
Three Ways to Cope With Getting Skunked
Here's how I see it.
1: Give Up
As I mentioned above, some folks just give up. This is much easier to do when you get skunked near your home. It's not that difficult to come back and try again another day. You want what you want and there's no sense in shooting something you don't want, so give up.
2: Look Behind You
Don't fall into the trap of thinking the only nice photo around is in the direction you planned. Sometimes, it may be right behind you. Here's my rationale for this approach – The universe gives me what I need when I need it. So maybe I didn't need another sunset shot. Maybe I needed something that was previously obscured, but now it's available right behind me.
3: Make Your Own Experience
Let's say you traveled a long way to shoot something that's been on your dream list. Maybe it's an event that gets canceled. A couple of years ago, I joined a bunch of friends on a dark Florida beach as we waited to photograph the launch of the Space Shuttle. Except, it didn't launch that night.
What to do? A few of us did some light painting. We shot some portraits. I pointed my camera in the other direction (see #2) to capture the glow of city lights over the beach. You can't always get what you want, but you can usually make something else happen when you're there.
Unfortunately for my photo plans, the shuttle ended up re-scheduled for a day launch and I never got the night launch that I wanted. Well, at least there are always Atlas rockets.
My Weekend Skunk
Over the past weekend, I had a bit of an assignment for myself. It was a composition at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom that I haven't shot before. In fact, I saw something very similar on Flickr. However, I had a different twist in mind and wanted to try out my new Lee Big Stopper – a 10 stop neutral density filter.
The idea was to have some creamy, orange clouds smeared across the sky as they moved during a long sunset exposure.
Instead, I showed up at Disney World to a very disappointing sunset completely devoid of color or clouds. It just sucked. I tried a couple of shots, but they just sucked, too. I got skunked.
Maybe I should have just went home. However, there was something right behind me that was also on my shot list. This scene of Merida's Court is usually filled with little girls waiting in line for two hours to see their favorite new princess. In the evening hours, it's blocked off with a curtain and a surly cast member who absolutely wouldn't allow any photos.
That didn't happen this weekend. Instead of a curtain, there was a rope. The surly guard was gone, and I snagged my shot before someone came to take it away from me.