Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photographing Sunsets From The Highway

Somewhere In Arizona

It's a stressful feeling.  You're traveling, you've fallen a bit behind schedule, and you're facing a long road ahead.  There's no time for distractions or unscheduled stops.  You have to keep going no matter what.

On a recent trip to the southwest, I made the eight-hour drive from Death Valley to Grand Canyon in one shot.  Half of the drive was at higher altitudes where elk are prevalent.  Elk can be very hazardous to vehicles - large, slow moving, and practically invisible at night.  I didn't want to be on the road long after dark.

As sunset approached I donned my proverbial blinders and told myself not to pull over.  Ignore those golden skies, those lovely pink and purple clouds.  Pedal to the metal!  We have to stay on schedule.

The light show had almost passed when I spotted bands of pink and red above a solitary peak to the southwest.  "It would make a nice picture," I thought.  Okay, maybe I did have a few minutes to spare after all.

a photograph of a mountain sunset in arizona
Somewhere In Arizona Where I Happened To Be When The Sun Went Down
Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South

I looked for a place to pull over, but it was difficult to see the roadside in the dimming light.  I spotted a small driveway with a gate for access to some ranch land.  I checked traffic and pulled over carefully onto loose gravel.

I grabbed my camera bag from the floor of the back seat.  The color in the sky was fading, but before I could compose a shot I would need to figure out how to avoid power lines that stretched in both directions.  A fence prevented me from entering the ranch land to walk past them.  Not to mention the possibility of snakes.

To get any kind of shot at all, I would have to shoot up over the power lines.  I attached a telephoto lens to help eliminate the foreground.  I composed and focused quickly on the peak of the mountain.  I grabbed the first shot; the exposure was accurate, but something didn't feel right.

A nagging voice in my head told me to double-check the focus.  Sure enough, it had shifted a bit.  A gust of wind or my own fingers might have moved the lens slightly.  The first shot wasn't sharp.

Mountaintop Detail

I pulled out my trusty reading glasses and refocused carefully on the transition line between mountain and sky.  I was able to squeeze off just four more exposures before the color faded away.  I tossed my gear in the car and pulled out carefully onto the highway.  Whatever was in the bag would have to be good enough.  I couldn't verify sharpness effectively on the LCD screen, but I was cautiously optimistic.  I had the feeling that I get when I nail the shot, and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the drive.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: 70-200 f/4L IS

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved


  1. Replies
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    2. Thanks! I'm just glad that I was able to get the shot before the light faded completely, or I would have been in a bad mood for the rest of the day. ;-)

  2. The sky reminds me of drapped raw silk. I'm glad you escaped elk, snakes and a poosible rifle from a property owner and took the shots! I enjoy the narrative so much too! Thanks so much for sharing your art with us.