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Sky on Fire, Eastern Sierra near Bishop

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 25 June 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

There are many places in the world I haven’t been, but I can’t imagine that there are any with more consistently spectacular skies than California’s Eastern Sierra. Here the prevailing west-to-east wind descends abruptly along the precipitous eastern side of the Sierra to create a “lee wave” that we know as the Sierra Wave. The result is the often striking lenticular cloud formations that have become a signature of Eastern Sierra photography.

I captured today's image on a fall evening a couple of years ago. The reaction it elicits ranges from awe to skepticism. This skepticism is in large part responsible for my theory that people forget how vivid color is in nature. To the people who doubt color like this I suggest that the next time they have a chance, they take a deep breath and watch a sunset from beginning to end (which can be up to 30 minutes after the sun disappears). They should look in all directions (my angle here is roughly 90 degrees from the sun, and some of my best sunset images have been made with the sun at my back), and make a special effort to remember the color--there really is nothing subtle about it.

The reality is that some of the most vivid color we experience occurs naturally: sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, butterflies, flowers.... My guess is that many people will snap off a few frames of a beautiful sunset only to be disappointed with the resulting images. Their unfortunate and inaccurate conclusion is that the sunset wasn't as grand as they remembered when in fact it was their capture that didn't do the sunset justice.

Of course this sunset was particularly memorable. I’ve experienced a few like it, when the moment is so electric the entire atmosphere seemed to buzz with color. When this happens there's about 30 seconds at its peak when everything from the rocks to the hair on my arms seems to glow. When this happens speed is of the essence, a great time to remember the wisdom of John Wooden: "Be quick but don't hurry."

I’d been photographing the Sierra crest to the west, but this cloud was to the south, away from the most obvious subjects. So (without hurrying) I (quickly) searched for a scene to hold the amazing sky, settling on this pair of trees atop a nearby ridge. Since the entire image was about the orange cloud, I put on my widest lens and composed with the sky filling as much of the frame as possible. To further emphasize the sky I chose a vertical composition.

The end result of all this was an image that looks very much like a flame, something I can't claim to have been entirely conscious of in the rapidly changing light. But I did know the composition felt right, and if you've read enough of my blog posts you know I'm a real advocate of turning off the conscious brain in favor of what feels right when it's time to click the shutter. (Chalk up another one for the right brain.)

Next post: June 28 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Beautiful! You have an excellent ability of capturing the most beautiful moments of nature.

25 Jun 2009 5:35am

@pernilla: Thank you, Pernilla--I can think of few compliments I'd rather hear.

Ivan W. from Hong Kong, Hong Kong

This is one amazing picture, and yes, it's really on fire! Great capture!

25 Jun 2009 8:53am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Well, your right brain knows it's stuff! The little trees really put the magnitude of the cloud into perspective. Spectacular!

25 Jun 2009 1:10pm

Luisa from Malta

WOW! this is outstanding... it really looks like the sky is on fire.. lovely photo

25 Jun 2009 4:51pm

Jackie Young from Folsom, CA, United States

Fabulous image (I wouldn't expect anything less of your work)!

25 Jun 2009 6:06pm

@Jackie Young: Thank you, Jackie. :)

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Stunning. An explosion of color.

25 Jun 2009 10:38pm

@john4jack: Well put, Jack--thanks.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful photograph

26 Jun 2009 4:59am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Right brain perfection ... BEAUTIFUL!

26 Jun 2009 11:55am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Wow, cool image, great!

28 Jun 2009 1:35am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

impressive cloud

28 Jun 2009 2:15pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! Magnificent

10 Jul 2009 1:55am