If There’s Good Light, Capture It

Fiery Sunrise Over Canyonlands National Park

Several months ago, I was visiting with another photographer passing through town, and we got on the discussion about breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. We both agreed that no matter what the foreground or landscape below looked like, it would come out looking great simply because of the light and clouds, provided they offered enough interest. While I certainly agreed with it, it was never my intent to be forced to try it. As a photographer, I always want to be around some magnificent landmark with such dramatic skies.

On my recent road trip, my first morning into Canyonlands National Park, however, gave me no other choice. I miscalculated the distance from my campground to the park, and as a result, saw the beginning signatures of a brilliant sunrise forming while I was still driving to the entrance. Shortly after passing through, desperately hoping I would find something of interest to create a foreground, the clouds began glowing a magnificent red. I knew then that my only two options were to shoot whatever I could around me, or to just get out and enjoy it. Had I been home in Jackson Hole, I may have picked the latter depending on certain scenarios, but being out on the road, I was determined to make the most of any and all circumstances.

I had just reached the Visitor Center and with it still being early, I parked and began to look for the most interesting parts of sunrise. I got a quick shot overlooking a canyon off the road a few dozen yards away, and on my way back to my car noticed an intensely colorful sky off to the west. To capture it effectively, I needed to use my telephoto, so any foreground objects would be moot. I simply began shooting and found a couple of sandstone formations in the distance below the clouds to help out a bit with the landscape, and wound up with this stitched panorama.

As photographers, we naturally want to be in the most iconic place when the most dramatic sunrises and sunsets occur, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. All you can do is make the best of it in any way you know how.


  1. Definitely agree Mike. We only have so many sunrises and sunsets to witness in our lives. Gotta capture the light whenever we can!

  2. Benjamin Chase

    I agree as well – in fact, sometimes I’ve actually been surprised at the outcome when I decide not to be a total perfectionist when it comes to composition and just shoot regardless.

  3. Very true Mike, sometimes it’s better to be lucky and take the present mother nature gave us than trying to improve on it too much.  Really dramatic clouds can speak for themselves, and the most dramatic usually only last for a few moments.  

    Reminds me of a time I was traveling back thru Yosemite (heading west) and saw most dramatic sunset behind an approaching storm front.  It looked like a fire storm in the sky and I feel lucky to have the photos of it I took from the side of the road.  

    • Nice, Greg!  In hindsight it’s always better to capture those moments while they’re there, like you said, but I couldn’t help but cringe during a few shots knowing there wasn’t of anything significantly interesting in the landscape.  Regardless, I’m really glad I have something from it more than just a cloudy memory. (sorry)
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I just had this kind of experience a few weeks ago, on my way home from Pawnee Buttes in Colorado there is almost nothing but flat prairie up to Cheyenne – the afternoon sun and a unique cloud formation created an unusual light that even without any kind of landmark I couldn’t resist taking a few shots… After uploading the photos and seeing the light in the photos made me very happy I did so 🙂

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