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  • Charlie Janson

The landscape as stage; the sunrise as the play.

I was excited to visit Valley of Fire State Park recently, because the rocks boast such an amazing range of shapes and colors that I knew there would be lots of landscapes to tempt my imagination. One of the fun challenges was to capture in one image both the shapes, textures, and colors of these beautiful land forms. I knew that the early morning sun would provide conditions that would allow me to do this but that the perfect light for a sunrise landscape might last only a few seconds. If you arrive late, there is no way to go back - 'if you snooze, you lose'.

So.... out of bed at 5:15am, check; quick cup of coffee, check; camera gear check, check; warm clothes (45F outside), check; drive to location we scouted the day before, check. I finally started to wake up during the brisk hike to the Fire Canyon overlook, momentarily distracted by the beautiful shapes of fins and swirls along the way. I found my spot and set up the camera by 6am and waited; sunrise was at about 6:20am. It was peaceful for a while, as the diffuse light from the hidden sun slowly grew brighter, but did not yet give form and color to the shapes in front of me. Then I started taking pictures as the play began - first the warmth of alpenglow just coloring the entire scene for about 10 minutes, followed by the dramatic entrance of the mountain highlighted by the first direct splash of sunrise, then the supporting cast of rocks of varied colors and shapes emerging as each was picked out by the lowering edge of light. Which one image to choose to represent this spectacle? For me, the magical balance happened when the light was still golden, a touch of direct sun picked out the mountain, and the foreground was bathed in soft directional light just at the edge of the sun's shadow. In the animation above I provide a sequence of 28 pictures I took over a few minutes just before and after the sunrise, showing how fast the light changes. Which image do you like best? Can you imagine picking out music to accompany this play?

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Charles Janson
Dec 08, 2020

Thanks! I just figured out how to reply (duh...). You are right - I was trying to convey something about the process of taking a fine photograph. Photography is so easy with modern 'smart' cameras that it is hard to realize how much work goes into the REST of getting a special image.


Dec 06, 2020

Oh my gosh, Charlie... this is incredible. I love seeing the changing colors, how they get sharper and sharper as the light progresses. Thanks for making it possible for us to see that. I loved reading about how you were there at just the right time, too. Planning is everything!

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