A New Day Breaks on Grandfather Mountain

Daybreak on Grandfather Mountain

The sun peeks over the horizon near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

These two images were taken on the same morning as the last post. A weak front moving through the region created just the right amount of clouds to allow for a spectacular sky at sunrise. Some mornings are so overcast that you never even realize that the sun has risen. Others have no clouds and the sun quickly becomes a giant ball of light that is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding sky. When the sky holds a bit of moisture and clouds, the chances of a spectacular light show increases dramatically.

This was one of those mornings. I stayed in place for forty-five minutes or so just watching the changing light and capturing as much of the beauty as possible. The shot below isn’t quite as dramatic but it is cool to see the sun through the layers of atmosphere as a perfect orb hanging above the horizon. Enjoy.

A New Day on Grandfather Mountain

The full sun emerges to begin a new day over the hills of western North Carolina



The Show Is Over – Let’s Go!

Sunset over the Palouse

A brilliant sunset as viewed from Steptoe Butte looking west over Washington State’s Palouse region

I’ve alluded to the other photographers present on Steptoe Butte the afternoon that we were there shooting. For the most part those photographers were kindred spirits and enjoying the experience just as much as we were. There was one group, however, that was just a bit different. Unfortunately, that was the group that we interacted with the most.

Apparently, this group was being guided by someone purporting to have more experience. The idea usually is to hire someone who can instruct on photography technique and take the group to spots where great conditions are likely to occur. Now, I’m not knocking photo safaris or whatever you choose to call them. I’ve actually participated in one. I might try one again in the future. They are great for some photographers, but I’m just too independent and want to go where I want to go when I want to go there. And, there is a tendency for the group to slow to the pace of the least accomplished individual. So, I’ve chosen to be independent and travel with no more than one or two other friends who have similar agendas.

The problem with this group was that they weren’t very well organized or supervised. The good news was that they had chosen a great location at an optimum time. Of course, we didn’t know any of this when we stepped up to the edge of Steptoe Butte to shoot the late afternoon light. But, as we stood on the edge of the group it became apparent that many of these people had very little knowledge of what they were doing. Our presumption was that the organizer would take care of their photographic needs.

The problem was that the organizer never really stepped up. Then, a few of the participants noticed us. When we would move to a different vantage point, one or two of them would follow. Then, the whole group would migrate after the first few. At first it was humorous. After the second or third move, it became irritating. All the while, the group participants were talking about warming up, getting out of the wind, how long would it take them to get to a restaurant, and lots of other non-photography oriented subjects. In the meantime, the incredible conditions around us kept getting better and better.

As the late afternoon light created longer and longer shadows on the landscape below us, we began to focus on the impending sunset. As beautiful as the shadows on the rolling hills of the Palouse had been, we were anticipating an awesome sunset. Clouds continued to roll in from the west and it became a contest between the cloud banks and the setting sun over which would win out at the end of the day. For a while, it appeared that the thickening clouds would totally obscure the sun as it sunk toward the horizon. Then, it appeared that the sun would win out and we would have a spectacular sunset turning those threatening clouds into a vast canvas of color overhead.

About thirty minutes before sunset – and just as it appeared that the sun was ultimately going to prevail – the director of the group shouted to his flock something like this, “The show is over! Let’s pack up and head out.” Tom and I both turned our heads slightly to each other as if to say, “Did we just hear him say that?” We didn’t actually say anything. We just smiled and silently shook our heads slightly at the lunacy of his edict. It was obvious at this point that an incredible sunset was about to unfold. We just stood in silence as the workshop participants loaded up into their vehicles and hastily drove off.

After they drove around the bend, we actually laughed out loud! The good news was that we now had the vantage point to ourselves. And, just as we had suspected, the sunset began to unfold. I’ve only shared a couple of images, but the incredible conditions lasted for at least forty-five minutes. As is the case with most sunsets, some of the most incredible images are to be had well after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

The image above was created by blending three images taken to properly expose for the highlights and shadows in the scene. I used an aperture of f22 in order to create the starburst you see. Using a very small aperture when the sun or other light source is partially obscured by a solid image, in this case the horizon. The image below was taken a few minutes after sunset. The afterglow of the sunset was still present in the sky, but the ambient light was sufficient to illuminate the farm and hills in the foreground.

I hope you enjoy the images. And, despite what our friendly photo workshop organizer thought, you really should exercise some patience until the show really is over. Enjoy.

Crepuscular Rays over the Palouse

Crepucular Rays over the Palouse

As the sun passed behind a bank of clouds, these crepuscular rays were formed over the Palouse

I mentioned in my last post that we observed an incredible sunset from Steptoe Butte. Today’s post will show the start of that sunset and I’ll conclude next time.

As the sun moved closer and closer to the horizon, the shadows on the hills below us became longer and longer. Eventually, the shadows became so long and the sun became obscured by a cloud bank so often, that the effect on the hills was lost. At that point, we moved to a more direct view of the setting sun. Up to that point we had been shooting with the sun at a ninety degree angle to our right. That meant we had been facing south. We now moved to look almost due west so that we could see all that was going on with the setting sun, the rolling hills of the Palouse, and the cloud bank to our west.

For a while, we worried that the clouds would obscure the sunset. Eventually, it became apparent that there were enough breaks in the clouds, though, that it was likely that we would have a colorful sunset. I’m not certain when the transition from late afternoon to sunset occurs. For us, it was at about this point in the afternoon. In the featured image, you can see the sun generating crepuscular rays as it drops behind a cloud bank. I love this effect and try to capture it whenever I can. I’ve always called these types of rays sunbeams. I once heard them referred to as God Rays. Apparently, crepuscular rays is the formal, scientific name. Whatever you call them, I hope you agree that they certainly are beautiful.

I’ve also included an image of a farm that lay directly in front of us. I don’t know that it is the best picture I’ve ever taken, but I certainly love the strong backlight created by the sun as it dropped out of the cloud bank. The farm is the same one that is in the left foreground of the featured image. I used a 70-200 lens with a 2x teleconverter for the farm close-up. The featured image was captured using 70-200 without the teleconverter. I think both are beautiful images. I hope you do as well. Enjoy.

Last Light on a Palouse Farm

The setting sun creates long shadows on a farm in eastern Washington


Sunset over Camden, Maine

Sunset as viewed from Camden Hills State Park, Maine

The sunset erupted this night and is shown as viewed from Camden Hills State Park

Camden, Maine

Camden, Maine as viewed from Camden Hills State Park

As we worked our way back down the coast toward Portland, there were a few places we wanted to visit. One of those was Camden, Maine. We had stopped there briefly on our way north, but that day was overcast and rainy. We hoped for better weather on the way back south.

The whole area of the mid-Maine coast is beautiful. I have some friends who had mentioned that they stay in Camden for a week or two every summer. Until this trip, I really didn’t understand the allure of the region. After spending some time there, I can see why people would want to vacation there. There is boating, hiking, shopping, dining, and loads of other things to do. The weather in the summer must be a huge improvement over other parts of the country. With the sea breeze and northern location, summers must be very pleasant. I’m not yet convinced about winter, though. This southern boy would have a tough time with winter stretching from November through April or May.

On our way up the coast, we noticed Camden Hills State Park and Mt. Battie that looms over the village of Camden. It seemed like a great spot to take in the vista of Penobscot Bay and Camden. So, we checked it out mid-day and decided to come back in late afternoon hoping for a great sunset.

On our arrival that afternoon, we poked around looking for the best vantage point atop Mt. Battie. There is a stone tower at the summit and it didn’t take long to realize that the best point of view would be from the tower. So, we set up shop on the small platform at the top of the tower. There was probably room for six or eight people up there and we were taking up at least our share of the space with our tripods and camera gear.

As the afternoon progressed, an assortment of people made their up to the top of Mt. Battie and to the tower itself. We talked to one and all but most just moved on after a few minutes. After a while, a couple of other photographers showed up and it was clear that they were there for the sunset as well. We began to talk with them and picked up some good information about other spots to shoot and how conditions were this fall compared to normal. It turned out that our suspicion that the leaf season was running one to two weeks late was correct. Both of the locals rated the conditions around Camden as sub par. I would dearly love to be there in a year where they thought conditions were above average!

As we watched the sun move toward the horizon I began to think that sunset would be either a total bust or awesome. There was a cloud formation that was hovering overhead but was not reaching down to the horizon. It appeared that *if* the sun dropped below the cloud layer and above the horizon, the whole cloud mass could turn color brilliantly. But, the longer we waited the less I could tell if it would happen or not. I did know that if it did turn, it wouldn’t last long.

At the same time, the late afternoon light was being blocked from the landscape to the south and east. Our hope was that brilliant soft light would flood the landscape below us and create a memorable view of Camden and the bay beyond. I just hoped that we would get the beautiful sunset or the Camden shot. As we neared sunset, it became obvious that the latter would not occur. So, I settled for taking some long exposures that showed some of the lights in the town of Camden while also keeping the detail of the buildings and greens at twilight.

Then, I turned my focus to the sunset. One problem was that the hills in the distance were blocking our direct view of the horizon. I knew that we were near sunset but the scene hadn’t yet changed dramatically. However, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the best conditions for a sunset often happen ten or twenty minutes after the sun sets. That was the case this night. Slowly, the clouds in front of us began to light up. Over the course of the next ten minutes, the show just got better and better. Ultimately, the entire cloud formation was lit up and resembled a volcano erupting from the mountains in the distance. Virtually ever cloud in the formation had some tint of color by the peak of the sunset.

The scene you see here is created from a sequence of seven images shot one stop apart for each image. The longest exposure is 1/3 of a second and the shortest is 1/200. The images were opened as RAW files in Aperture and blended using the Exposure Blending tool in Photomatix Pro. Without blending I would have lost the color in the row of trees in the foreground and the detail in the brightest clouds.

Considering some of the sunsets that we missed earlier in the trip, it was a real treat to have such a perfect one emerge at the end of our trip. This is one of my five favorite images of the entire week. Enjoy.

Pre-dawn light at Boulder Beach

Pre-dawn light at Boulder Beach

The view from Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park just before sunrise

The morning this image was taken was my favorite morning of the entire trip. I had read extensively about places to photograph in Acadia. One spot that came up over and over again was the boulder beach below Otter Cliff. This was the morning that I would be able to experience a sunrise at this magical spot.

We rose early because we had only read about the actual location we wanted to shoot from. We had scouted out a parking spot and thought we knew how to reach our desired destination. But, the weather had been so lousy when we were scouting that we didn’t want to get soaking wet looking for the exact location we would need. That could have been a big mistake. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. We arrived on location about an hour before sunrise. We made the short walk up the road to the entrance to the boulder beach. Unfortunately, it was too easy to find. Once again, we were preceded by a large group of photographers. I’ll talk more about that in the next post. Let’s just say that *most* photographers are good people. As always, though, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole barrel…

We weaved our way down the beach and once again took up inferior positions because the best ones had already been taken by earlier rising photographers. I wedged my way between some rocks at my feet, a large boulder as a backrest, and a friendly photographer from Connecticut and her boyfriend to my right. I was sitting on rounded boulders about the size of bowling balls. They were a bit damp and very hard, but I had a good spot. Then, the waiting began. Eventually, if the clouds and sun cooperated, the cliff in front of me would light up as the golden rays of sunrise warmed its face. In the meantime, there was little to do but wait and watch to see if the sunrise would be visible. Fortunately, the clouds were hanging just off the horizon leaving a small window for the sun to be visible as it rose over the horizon.

As I waited, I noticed that the pre-dawn light show was becoming more and more attractive. Finally, I couldn’t resist shooting the opening act of the morning. The sun had illuminated the morning clouds and the glow was even reflecting on the ocean’s surface. I pushed myself out of my contorted pose and set up my tripod on the boulder that had been acting as my backrest. I snapped off a few quick frames attempting to capture the beauty of the moment. Hopefully this image does the scene justice.

This shot is a single image shot at f22 for one second at ISO 200. The long exposure caused a bit of blur in the ocean’s surface and in the clouds as they were moving along at a healthy clip. I used the shadows tool in Aperture to bring out a bit of the detail in the rocks in the foreground. I love the resulting image. But, my favorite image of the morning was shot in the next few minutes. Stay tuned…