Variability of material properties in the shallow subsurface presents challenges for near-surface geophysical methods and exploration-scale applications. As the depth of investigation decreases, denser sampling is required, especially of the near offsets, to accurately characterize the shallow subsurface. We have developed a field data example using high-resolution shallow seismic reflection data to demonstrate how quickly near-surface properties can change over short distances and the effects on field data and processed sections. The addition of a relatively thin, 20 cm thick, low-velocity layer can lead to masked reflections and an inability to map shallow reflectors. Short receiver intervals, on the order of 10 cm, were necessary to identify the cause of the diminished data quality and would have gone unknown using larger, more conventional station spacing. Combined analysis of first arrivals, surface waves, and reflections aided in determining the effects and extent of a low-velocity layer that inhibited the identification and constructive stacking of the reflection from a shallow water table using normal-moveout-based processing methods. Our results also highlight the benefits of using unprocessed gathers to pragmatically guide processing and interpretation of seismic data.