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The Thirty-seventh Frame

The Thirty-seventh Frame

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We all have fish tales about the ones that got away. Here's one of mine from just last night.

By Jack Howard

July 26, 2010

Every photographer has, at one time or another, missed a shot due to the combination of operator error and system limitations. Back in the days of film canisters, one of the most unwelcome sounds of all was the instantaneous engagement of the automatic rewind motor after firing off a winning frame. This meant that your perfectly framed moment was at the very end of the spool of film, and was the 37th frame shot on that roll, and odds are, it wasn't captured completely, if at all. It's all digital now, but there's still plenty of ways to have that sinking 37th frame sensation of instantly realizing you missed the shot. Here's my story from this past weekend.


Here in NYCLand, yesterday was one of those crazy summer days that started out oppressively hot and humid, followed by an afternoon punctuated by ultra-violent thunderstorms. In the wake of the storms, the air was cooler, crisper, and absolutely perfect at twilight with high salmon pink clouds punctuating an impossibly blue western sky. It was absolutely perfect photo weather, but I got hit with the curse of the 37th frame.

I was out in the back yard, cooking some burgers on the grill, when I heard a distinctive and instantly recognizable sound very close by. It made me look up and then go running for a camera as quick as I could. You see, my back yard must have been in the perfect wind-drift line for the balloons launched at the NJ Balloon Festival a few miles down the road. There was a giant rainbow-colored hot air balloon hanging in the air not 150 feet above my neighbor's house!

As quick as I could, I'd ran through the house, to my office, where I grabbed a Sony A-850 with the 24-70 Zeiss zoom lens attached, sprinted back down the stairs, out the back door, zoomed in to compose the scene passing above me of this giant hot air balloon glowing with both golden hour light, and the fire from the torch. I fired off a few frames, shouted a hello back to the passengers in the basket and then gave a quick look to the instant preview on the chimp screen.

On first look, the shot was tack-sharp, and just a touch more hot than I'd prefer, but still, in RAW, there'd be enough to work with to cool down the histogram a bit. Then, in a heartbeat, the instant preview disappeared. I clicked the playback button and instead of my series of shots of this impossibly close hot air balloon filling the frame, I was greeted by a gray box stating with cruel digital indifference: "No CF Card".

There was no time to even utter an expletive and hope to salvage the shoot, so I again did the through-the-house-up-the-stairs-to-the-office sprint to grab a CF card with free space on it–a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32 GB card–and run back down the stairs and back into the yard...

...we're talking less than a minute start to finish from the time I'd first heard the propane flame blast, and by now, the moment and the magic had passed. The balloon was now a block away, obscured by trees, as you can see here.

I'd been meaning to change the settings on the A-850 to disable the shutter when it wasn't loaded with a CF card, but what with a new baby in the house, I've been a bit, do you lately.  Not that it really would have made a difference in the grand scheme of things, since I still would have had to do the second sprint up to the office to grab the CF card after getting down to the yard and not having the camera fire off a shot if this setting change was made in the first place.

Yup, I totally missed the shot, but at least I have a good story to tell about it.

We know you've got your own 37th frame story.  Leave a comment and share your own tale of the one(s) that got away!


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