Sky

Reading the Sky

I think I’m developing an uncanny ability to read the sky. I can tell when the sunset is going to be spectacular. As a landscape photographer, I am very interested in having beautiful skies with color and just the right kind of clouds in my photographs.

Five Palm Trees at Sunset, Palm Springs, CA

One afternoon a week or so ago, I looked out the window and saw the sky. It was still at least a couple of hours before sunset, but I thought to myself, if these clouds stay like this, it’s going to be an amazing sunset. The clouds did remain, and sure enough the sky was lit up with bright orange followed by deep magenta and red expanses of cloud formations. It was really amazing. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Orange and yellow fill the sky at sunset.

I went to Palm Springs last month to photograph some of the landscape there. My primary goal was to make some photographs of palm trees, since they are so closely associated with Palm Springs. I had a couple of ideas in mind. I liked the idea of silhouetting the palm trees against the sky. I also wanted to make some photographs that featured both the palm trees and the surrounding mountains.

For the silhouettes, It didn’t matter to me what the sky was doing as long as there was deep color in it. For that, I simply had to photograph in the right direction at the right time. This is one of my results.

Palm Tree Silhouette, Palm Springs, CA

For the mountain photographs, I wanted to have a more interesting sky. On the day I was preparing to make my palm tree and mountain photographs, it was overcast all day. That wasn’t going to be good for my photography that evening. But I never give up in landscape photography, because you never know what can happen.

Later in the afternoon it was still overcast, and no shadows were being cast by any objects because of the fully diffuse light. I noticed a change in the conditions, however. At times the shadows of objects started to become more well-defined--still very hazy, but at least discernible. I looked up, and my sky reading ability kicked in. Even though the sun was still behind the clouds, enough light was filtering through to form these faint shadows. Yes, the clouds were just beginning to thin out. If this kept up without going too far, there would be enough light coming through to illuminate the clouds from below, and that would produce a beautiful display at sunset. I continued my wait now with guarded optimism and excitement for what might be coming.

I found my location and got situated 45 minutes before sunset. The conditions were similar to what they were an hour or two earlier, and I now had much higher expectations for the sunset. The mountains to the west block the sun long before the actual sunset time, and because I was located so close to the mountains, I could not see what was happening in the sky behind them. I waited patiently until the light show began, and it did begin! I started by making the photograph at the top of this blog. At this point the sunset light is mostly orange and yellow because the sun is still above the true horizon. I can’t see it because it’s blocked by the mountains, but the beautiful light was extensive enough for me to see it in the clouds above the mountains.

Three Palm Trees at Sunset, Palm Springs CA

Ten to fifteen minutes later, the sun had set, and now it was lighting up the clouds from below with beautiful magenta and red colors. Here’s the photograph I made then. I love when the sky puts on this kind of light show at sunrise or sunset. This time I anticipated these sky conditions, and thankfully they developed and allowed me to make these photographs.