I recently visited Bryce Canyon National Park, an other-worldly place of hoodoos and other colorful, sculpted rock formations. When shooting landscapes, I especially like to photograph at sunrise and sunset. As all photographers know, the light is best at those times of day, and good light is a key ingredient in dramatic photography that evokes an emotional response. That’s what I’m after when I photograph--I’m not trying simply to document a place. I’m trying to create a piece of art that captures the feeling of the location and the moment.
When I arrived on location, I knew I had a couple different dilemmas. First of all, the weather was not really cooperating. It was partly to mostly cloudy for most of the afternoon, which would have been fine, but it really started to cloud over as the afternoon wore on. I was afraid that it would be completely overcast for sunset. The second dilemma was whether it would be best to shoot at sunset or at sunrise. That was easy to solve, though--I planned to shoot at both times!
At sunset, the sky was as I feared. It was quite cloudy, and the sun wasn’t really coming through the clouds at all. The entire landscape was in shadows. One thing I’ve learned about landscape photography, however, is that patience is a virtue. I’ve also learned that the sky conditions can change quickly, especially at sunset. It wasn’t completely overcast, and there was the possibility that if the clouds broke enough to let some sunlight through, it could be a really good opportunity. I waited and took several shots as time passed. Finally, while the sun was still above the horizon, the clouds started to break and the sun came through. The clouds above were lit up creating a beautiful sky, and the landscape on the southeast side of the canyon was glowing a deep orange color. I had my opportunity and I took it. I was really happy I waited it out.
The next morning I returned, but unfortunately the clouds were completely blocking the sun. I couldn’t get what I wanted that morning, but I returned the following morning. It was perfectly clear that second morning, and now the sun was casting its early morning orange glow on the Bryce Canyon amphitheater to the northwest. I had my sunrise shot.
It’s really interesting to me to see the difference between the two images. I like them both for different reasons. I like the way the sun lights up the landscape in the sunrise shot. In the sunset shot, we get some of that, but we also have a much more dramatic and interesting sky. The feel of the photographs is completely different, which I find fascinating. If you think about it, what’s the difference between sunrise and sunset? The sun is low in the sky, the colors are yellow, red, and orange, and this is pretty much the same at both times. But when I look at these two images, they feel completely different. The sunset photograph feels like sunset. That couldn’t be sunrise. I don’t know why. And the sunrise photograph feels like sunrise. It feels like the start of the new day. Maybe it’s just me because I was there, but when I see the photographs, that’s one of the things I get from them. You might not see that, but hopefully you see something worth looking at!