Thursday, April 17, 2014

Morning Has Broken

What a glorious sunrise. After being rained out and unable to see the lunar eclipse Monday night, hit with car trouble on the way to Wednesday’s sunrise, today was successful on all counts. We arrived at the top of Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park an hour before sunrise.

It was 27 degrees so we bundled up in warm coats, hats, and gloves. We set up at a good vantage point and waited. Other photographers arrived a little later and had to hurry to get set up. Whenever possible it is better to arrive a little early rather than a little late. Sunrise can be manic enough, since the light changes very quickly and focusing can be difficult, so it is best not to add to the stress by running late.

When photographing sunrise from a high elevation, the sky gets light much earlier than you might think. It is best to be there, ready to go, about an hour before official sunrise time.

When you arrive it will be dark, so be sure to have a flashlight or a headlamp handy to light your way to your vantage point, and to double check your camera settings. Everything will be easier in the early morning darkness if you prepare things the night before:
1. load and format the memory card in your camera;
2. make sure your batteries are charged and that one is loaded in the camera;
3. put the lens you want to start out with on your camera;
4. set the ISO to 400
5. set your camera on Aperture Priority at f/16 or f/22 or greater (the shutter speed will set itself)
6. be sure to pack your tripod
7. have a cable release or remote trigger to minimize camera shake

Determining focus can be difficult in low light situations. Live View does not work well in low light. Either manual focus or autofocus can work reasonably well. If your eyes are sharp and you are comfortable manually focusing, try that. I prefer to use autofocus and use one focus point only. I place that focus point on an area of most contrast, finding a line between a dark area and a lighter area. Focus on that and then recompose. The autofocus mechanism is designed to work best when it can grab onto a point of contrast. In this image I focused on the middle ridge line, where its top edge meets the lighter area of the back ridge.

The natural starburst occurred automatically because of the small aperture. As long as a bright light source is partially blocked by something dark like a mountain in shadow or a dark cloud, the starburst will occur.

This is a great time of year for sunrises since the sky is generally not as hazy or humid as it will be in the summer. So find some photogenic spots, get up bright and early, and head out!

Shutter Speed 1/15 sec.  Aperture f/25.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.”  --Bernard Williams

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