The sunrise that wasn’t

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Landscape photographers often maintain pretty strange hours. The best light of the day almost always occurs in the margins of the day; sunrise and sunset. That often means waking well before sunrise and being out well after dark. During the long days of summer it makes for very little sleep.

This is one such, sleep deprived, image. I took it two years ago while on an extended family vacation in South Lake Tahoe. The gathering was in celebration of my parents 50th wedding anniversary. We were staying near Stateline which made Emerald Bay about a 35 minute drive. I like to be in place at least 30 minutes prior to sunrise so that meant setting the alarm for around 4:30AM.

My plan, on this particular morning, wasn’t to shoot from this spot but we were early so I stopped. The amount of light is deceiving as it was still very dark as sunrise was still another 45 minutes away. While I really couldn’t see it, I knew that if I could leave the lens open long enough there should be color along the horizon. I also knew that if I exposed to get detail in the trees and lake that the color would get blown out.My exposure decisions resulted in a silhouette of Emerald Bay. To anyone that has traveled to the area, that form is unmistakable. That decision ended up being 20 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100. I was using my Canon 30D with a Tokina 12-24 f/4 at 19mm. (If you’re shooting on a crop bodied camera it’s an amazing little lens).

After taking a few shots here we packed back into the car and drove to the overlook that I planned to shoot sunrise from. The sun rose into a boring blue sky that didn’t surrender a single usable photograph. Had we slept another 15 minutes, we’d have missed it entirely. It’s important to remember what motivates you to take nature images. It was a bright, calm morning and we were all by ourselves in a very beautiful spot.

Sometimes the picture isn’t the most important thing.