Chasing the Perfect Photo in Dubrovnik

I am certainly not a photographer, but tonight I was going to take an absolutely perfect photograph. As anyone who follows this blog or my Instagram feed can attest, I enjoy taking photographs when I travel, perhaps not so much to capture memories of the experiences but to potentially see them in a unique way and share them with people who might not otherwise have the opportunity or occasion to see the places I visit.

But while in the thousands of photos I have taken in my trips, there are a few that have come out incredibly well, I simply don’t have the talent, discipline, eye, or gear to really call myself a photographer. I’m far too clumsy to carry around multiple lenses and probably too busy to learn what an ISO setting really means, but armed with my trusty Pixel 2 phone or one of the great Sony point and shoot cameras I have used over the years, I take enough photos to get a few really interesting ones and I have fun doing it.

Tonight, though, I was going to capture a great image. Riding back on the bus from Dubrovnik’s Old Town to my apartment, I happened to look outside my window just as an incredible view of the city below came into sight. The bus was moving fast, on a highway far above the city towards my place, but I had a hunch that the trek back would be worth it.

Back at my apartment, I waited for my phone to charge from its current position of 4% and planned my route. The problem is that there basically wasn’t one: my choice was either to trek back on the highway which only rarely had anything resembling a shoulder or a sidewalk or to brave the winding streets and their monstrous stairs below. Racing the falling sun, I initially opted for the highway before an angry truck driver convinced me to drop down below.

In the mile and a half back jaunt to the spot I thought would be perfect, I moved fast enough that my Fitbit decided I was jogging–quite generously–but I worried that I wouldn’t make it in time, so I jumped back on the highway for the last leg.

And there it was: the old city and harbor of Dubrovnik below me, both in vivid light and missing the rain and clouds that had characterized my earlier visit to the area. True to my hunch and the flash of the city I’d seen from the speeding bus, I could see the entire old city and its walls below. Perched on a narrow strip of dirt next to the highway, I had one of the most incredible views of a city I’ve ever seen on a trip.

But there just wasn’t an angle to get a great photo. Whether it was the placement of a giant tree in one spot or a house in another, I never found a photograph that came close to capturing what I was able to see. Often, of course, photos seem to enhance reality artificially, but all I wanted to do was capture exactly what I was able to see from that spot. Despite taking a number of shots from every spot I could, including a private walkway and the middle of the highway, I didn’t end up with much more than some good photos of a sublimely beautiful spot.

Despite my failure, despite the nerve-wracking walk, despite the sets of stairs that pressed me to the breaking point, the trip to try to capture the perfect photo was absolutely worth it. I got to experience a singular moment in one of the most beautiful cities imaginable and even my speed walk to get there afforded me the opportunity to see families out spending their evening, a German couple having a comically absurd argument about a bus stop (that I think I was able to address), and a handful more of the wild cats of Dubrovnik.

I even managed to take a couple of cool photos along the way and during the walk back.

Only one thing marred the evening’s experience, though. As I made the much slower walk back to my apartment, I could see, through the trees and buildings, what appeared to be an incredible sunset back in the direction of my apartment and its balcony overlooking another part of the harbor. I could see hints of purples, oranges, and blues in the sky just ahead but knew I wouldn’t make it back to the top of my hill to see or capture it.

When I finally made it back to the apartment just as darkness fell, I saw the owner of the apartment building sitting on his deck smiling. He told me I’d missed “the most beautiful sunset” he’d seen in years.  

Still worth it, damn it.