An On-The-Fly Sunrise

by | Aug 12, 2022 | Pic of the Month, Stories & Expeditions | 1 comment

When my brother Donald and I went to Arizona last month, we went to a lot of places and did a lot of things. And just like normal life always is, we didn’t have the photographers dream schedule of always being at the perfect place at the perfect time for perfect landscape photos. That’s just not how normal life works.

However, we did make special effort to make the most of being in a place that was unique to us. We tried to get up early. We tried to see if we could be at epic places at epic times of day. And since we both were trying to make that effort, some beautiful pictures came as a result! We didn’t get amazing pictures every day, but we did make the most of what was offered to us. Only seldom are we able to make time for landscape photography specifically, so if I didn’t try to fit it in when I could, I would basically do no landscape photography at all! However, when I have a “making the most of wherever I happen to be” mindset, I find I get more amazing pictures than I thought possible!

For example.

One of the first mornings in Arizona after the AFHE Convention, we planned to go to a scenic location for a sunrise and some morning birding. Well, we got off 2hrs late. This meant we were driving down the highway at prime sunrise time. Instead of being disappointed, I chose to go along with what we had. As we were driving along looking at the lightening sky, we saw a sign for a “Scenic Overlook”. We pulled off to see what was there.

220719_James Staddon_9625 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 140 mm, 1-20 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 800

It was a nice open view. But after just a few minutes, I knew it would be better to be at a different location when the sunrise really popped. I wanted a better foreground. The overlook was on the right side of the road and the sunset was on the left side of the road, so just about any angle on the sunrise would include road. Plus, the only prominent element on the horizon was a mountain range that was extremely far away, so anything with a wide angle lens wouldn’t have much of anything interesting in it, except for sky. But I generally don’t want to rely on the sky only for epicness, if I can help it.

220719_James Staddon_9630 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-13 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

So we hopped in the car and kept driving. The day before, I had noticed that if we kept driving down this road we would get out of the city fairly quickly. And so out of the city we got! And just in time. We were now driving north so the sunrise was now on our right. No road to worry about this time. Also, we stopped at a spot where there was a break in the powerlines. No powerlines to worry about either. There was no dedicated pulloff there, but since we weren’t traveling on an Interstate, we could just pull over anywhere as long as it was a safe distance off the road. The sky was really lighting up by now, so I whipped out my standard go-to landscape gear: a 16-35mm on a full frame camera. I almost always get down low for a shot so that was what I did first.

220719_James Staddon_9631 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 16 mm, 1-30 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 200

When looking at the photo, I realized a low perspective here wasn’t going to be very good. It was so flat and the mountains were so far away that getting down low hid just about everything in the middle ground. Plus, the thin grass sticking up above the horizon wasn’t pleasing. However, just standing up wasn’t going to make the picture more interesting.

220719_James Staddon_9632 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 16 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 200

The fence is just there, serving as a distraction. And it wasn’t the picturesque kind that I felt like trying to incorporate. So I walked up to the fence to see if there was anything beyond it that I could use as foreground. And there were these spiny things.

220719_James Staddon_9637 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-30 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 100

I looked at my shot and noticed I had cropped one of the plants. I resituated myself to frame a shot that would incorporate the plants a little bit more purposely.

220719_James Staddon_9641 W

Arizona Glow
Highway 89, north of Prescott, Arizona
Download as a free desktop background in the next Latest from Lenspiration update (subscribe)

There seemed to be a ton of sky in that shot, so I included a little more foreground for a tighter shot.

220719_James Staddon_9642 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 100

The foreground felt a bit blank, so I got down on my knees and shot low again.

220719_James Staddon_9644 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-80 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 100

I think if I had not been so mesmerized by the incredibleness of the sunrise, I would have taken my time more to perfect this shot. It’s almost there, but not quite. I was still in this awestruck state of mind seeing Arizona landscapes for the first time in over 15 years.

I concluded I liked going wide better, so moved on to a more simple composition that eliminated everything but just what was most important.

220719_James Staddon_9647 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 16 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

By now, the sky had lost its epic color. I turned around to head back to the car. Across the road to the east the clouds and mountains still had a nice pink hue to them.

220719_James Staddon_9540 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

But the highway was between me and the scene again. Maybe I could hide it with the foreground?

220719_James Staddon_9548 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

No, it was time to move on. I had done what I could with the location I was at, and we didn’t want to be any later to Donald’s birding spot. This on-the-fly method isn’t the best way to do landscape photography per se, but if it’s the only option you’ve got, I say take it!

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1 Comment

  1. Richard Spearrin

    Great work James. Thanks for the insight.


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