Sunrise and Smoke: An Early Morning Decision

Is this real?, Great Basin, Nevada. Sometimes spontaneous works. This is pretty much the image I imagined waking up an hour earlier.

Landscape photography typically involves planning, at least for me. I usually get some idea of place, story, mood, or composition, and begin by flying around in Google Earth, searching a few maps, checking the weather, and logging into PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It is part of the fun, but this morning was not all that…

It has been miserably smokey in Carson Valley, with air quality commonly in the unhealthy range due to the disastrous and all too common fires in California and Nevada. We are in the smoke-plume of the Ferguson Fire at Yosemite. My trail running has ground to a halt, and there isn’t much motivation to get out for some landscapes. And yet, for some reason, I woke up at 4 AM — spontaneously, for otherwise no good reason — with the thought of catching the orb of the rising sun filtered through the smoke-plume haze. My pack sits ready and the tripod is in the car, so why not?  Let’s go.

I brewed some tea, toasted a bagel, and started out for Kingsbury Grade in the moonlit pre-dawn. I’d climb to a roadcut about half-way up the Carson Range and scramble over the edge to gaze down on the shadows of the Pine Nut Mountains. I knew I would keep it simple — my 70-200 to the horizon, and that’s it. The sun and smoke would do the rest.

I waited about 20 minutes and for much of that time I thought the thick curtain of smoke on the eastern horizon, with haze settling into the foothills, would block the sunrise completely. But soon a sliver of red appears, as if the ferocious fire had itself jumped from the High Sierra to the lowly Pine Nuts. The orb was here, pretty much as my dreams must have known.

Portal arch, Great Basin, Nevada. After capturing an earlier image, I watched the sun disappear and expected it would soon be too bright in the cloudless sky. As I began to pack, the orb crested the densest plume and seduced a second shot. This may earn a large print, to be viewed at a distance.

My smoke-themed photos tend to be rather dark, a reflection of the foreboding plumes of the destructive fires in our midst. Please be careful out there and I hope those affected — the people and our wild lands — can soon recover. Please feel free to comment below.  Too dark?  Fire and smoke affecting you?

1 thought on “Sunrise and Smoke: An Early Morning Decision

  1. Robert Montgomery says:

    An orb guides the Self
    to granite perch above valley floor
    Zeal begets the blaze

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.