Photographing a sunset can be rewarding. After all, the colors can be stupendous, and no two are ever alike. But even though the sun sets every day, there’s no guarantee of a great sunset every day. Many atmospheric conditions have to come together; don’t even ask me what they are, because I don’t know. I do know that some conditions have a better potential for a good show than others. For instance, having clouds in the sky is almost paramount; they give the setting sun something to reflect color off of as it sinks out of sight. But even with a cloudy sky sometimes a rewarding sunset just doesn’t materialize.
Getting great sunset photos takes a little luck. It also takes a little planning, because by the time you see a great sky show, if you aren’t ready for it, it will likely be over before you get your gear and get to a good location. But probably more than either luck or planning, you have to have patience. Sometimes you can see a great sunset coming before it even gets started. But other times (probably more often) a sky that shows little or no promise can suddenly go crazy with color… and if you had already given up and packed it in you will miss it.
Such was the case with Sunday evening’s sunset. I had initially set up along a stream, looking westward. The sky was looking promising around 4:30; nice bands of clouds, sky reflecting on the water in front of me. I took a few test shots of the scene I wanted, then I turned my attention to some other water shots as I waited. Unfortunately, as time passed, more clouds rolled in and totally obscured the sun and horizon. Around 5:00 it didn’t look likely for a good sunset, at least from this location. So I packed up and headed to another location, up on a ridge about a mile away. When I got there I started walking along the road assessing the situation. From this vantage point I would have a good view of the sun as it dropped below the horizon. I had some foreground objects, in the form of snow fences, to add a little foreground interest. But what I didn’t have was a sky that looked like it held much potential to make my time there worthwhile. I took some shots anyway, trying different compositions with the fence and farm buildings, but they weren’t doing anything for me. By this time, about 5:15, the sun was just a little above the horizon, and behind some clouds. I started walking back to the car, about 200 feet away.
As I was walking the sunset gods must have felt my lament, because I looked over at the western sky one more time, but this time I saw something that gave me hope. I said to myself, “that could turn into something, maybe I’ll stick around.” And so I started walking back to my chosen spot and waited just a little longer. And that’s when it happened. Just as the sun came through the low-hanging cloud cover and reached the horizon, the sky began to light up. The clouds did what they were supposed to; reflect the warm colors of the setting sun. In the space of five minutes the sky went from boring to spectacular… and I had been ready to go home. I almost missed it.
While this was certainly not the most incredible sunset I have ever witnessed, my point is made; Never give up on a sunset just because you don’t think it will pan out. You’re there already anyway, so you might as well wait it out. And what’s more, even when you do get a good sunset,and you think it’s over, stick around. Sometimes the second act is just about to begin. Because it’s not over til it’s over.
Daniel J. Marquis Photography Home Page