Posted on April 3, 2016
Every once in a while we find ourselves at just the right place when Mother Nature delivers something special. When that happens, the best thing to do is stay calm and keep your head on a swivel.
In January my Death Valley workshop group had one of those moments. We’d walked almost a mile to get out to dunes that hadn’t been trampled, then waited while a sky that was solid overcast broke up just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The result was about ten minutes of horizon-to-horizon red that at its peak painted the dunes as well.
We’d been watching a hole in the clouds to our north shift in our direction, and I started to get an inkling that the ingredients were there for a vivid sunset about fifteen minutes earlier, when peaks in the northeast, then the clouds overhead, started to glow with warm, late light. I’d been using my 70-200 telephoto lens to isolate areas of the dunes, but realized that if the sky did indeed light up, I’d almost certainly want something wider and switched to my 16-35. I also encouraged everyone to do the same, and to anticipate the color and identify sunset compositions now, before it happened. Shortly thereafter we got our first hints of pink and the show was on.
That evening was a great example of something I preach in my workshops: No matter how great the scene you’re photographing, every once in a while take a few seconds to look around. On this evening I was excitedly photographing in one direction when I realized everyone in the group was photographing in the opposite direction. Turning to admonish them, I saw what they were photographing and shut up, quickly aiming my camera in that direction instead.
Read more about that evening, and see a picture of the other direction, here: Finding a new sandbox.
As I’ve written before, the ingredients for sunset (or sunrise) color are clouds, direct sunlight, and clean air (the cleaner the better). The idea that polluted or dusty air is good for sunset is a myth. (If that were true, Los Angeles and Beijing would be know for their sunsets, not Hawaii or the Caribbean.)
The red you see at sunset is the only color remaining after the white sunlight we see at midday has been stripped of all other wavelengths. It’s actually a rather interesting process (to me at least) that you can read more about here: Sunset Color.
Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh the screen to reorder the display.