Dawn and dusk have become two of my favorite times to photograph the landscape. There’s a short window of time that can be magical. The light is subtle and dependent upon conditions on both horizons. If an alpenglow occurs and the soft pink sky reflects onto your subject, it takes on a quality unlike anything else Mother Nature provides. It doesn’t have the OMG factor of an on-fire sky, so it often goes unnoticed. It’s the trained and conditioned eye that finds and takes advantage of it. Learn its nuances, and you’ll find the need to arrive at each location a bit earlier and stay a bit later than you’ve been used to. So, turn down the lights and make some low light landscape images.
Check the sunrise time of your destination on the Internet, with a GPS, a smart phone or any other source. Many photographers arrive at this time, but you’ll find me set up and ready to make my first image 30 minutes before. The magic of dawn begins 20 to 25 minutes prior to sunrise. I set up my shot and watch the sky in all directions. If all goes well, a warm-colored pastel tone begins to evolve. Watch how this bounced pink color illuminates the different formations. As it does, capture the soft quality of light. When it disappears, the light will go flat until the sun starts to light up the landscape, so be prepared for a lull in the action.
A.M. Bonus: Clear mornings are good candidates for an alpenglow. While landscape photographers often desire clouds to add intrigue to an image, an alpenglow is also warmly welcomed. A bonus of a crystal clear morning is the cool temperature. While it’s not fun to be cold, cooler night temperatures translate into potential mist rising off a body of water. Add in bounced alpenglow, and it’s a recipe for a winning shot.
Silhouettes at Sunset: Alpenglow skies make gorgeous backdrops for silhouettes at both dawn and dusk. A scenario I see all too often is that as soon as the sun drops below the horizon, a tall mountain peak or a red rock formation of the southwest, photographers make an exodus to their cars believing the show is over. What they don’t realize is some of the best possible light of the day may still be ahead. Admittedly, right after the sun sets, there’s a lull in the drama. It’s this lull that drives people to leave. But if the conditions are right, the sky may light up in pink, orange and red. I love to photograph silhouettes when this happens. I look for formations that have interesting shapes and vary in size. Add in surfaces that reflect the light and a plethora of compositions await the eager photographer. Meter off the sky as opposed to the shape of the silhouette, as the purpose is to create rich blacks in the silhouettes. In post processing, a slight boost in color works well to enhance the effect, but be careful to not oversaturate the color.
Clouds: Dawn and dusk skies filled with clouds have the potential to go electric. If you’re at a location and this phenomenon sets up, look for subjects that line up with the clouds. Be prepared to move quickly as the magic is short lived. A zoom comes in handy to vary all possible compositions. A polarizer works to your advantage if your primary subject is at a right angle to the sun. Keep the ISO low and use a tripod to get the best quality out of the file. A quick check of the histogram, especially the red channel, is important because you don’t want to clip the warm colors in the scene.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.