In a place where the spectacular is commonplace, Sentinel Dome stands out. At 8,000 feet Sentinel Dome rises high above Yosemite Valley, rewarding anyone who makes the one mile trek with a 360 degree visual buffet. From its summit, rotating 360 degrees clockwise from west-to-east you can savor Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, North Dome, Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, and Nevada Fall , Mt. Starr King, the Sierra crest (and a host of peaks to numerous to name), the San Joaquin Valley, and even Mt Diablo (in the San Francisco Bay Area) if the conditions are right.
With its unobstructed view of the eastern horizon, Sentinel Dome may just be the best (easily accessible) place in Yosemite to photograph sunrise. But it's also a great sunset spot, and it's where I happened to be on this early summer evening a couple of years ago. When I arrived, about an hour before sunset, the sky was a flat gray, with terrain to match. But on the western horizon was a gap in the clouds that offered an unobstructed view of blue sky beyond. I knew before the sun set it needed to pass through the gap (duh), and when it did it could (fingers crossed) illuminate the entire sky.
I used the time until sunset to evaluate my composition options, ready my graduated neutral density filters, and anticipate my exposure settings. As I prepared, a thin haze formed on the horizon, a potential problem if it thickened enough to obscure the sun, a potential benefit if it remained thin and cut the sunlight slightly. The fact is, all the anticipation and preparation in the world won't guarantee success; at best it will merely improve your odds of success.
But since that stuff's beyond my control, I continued trying to improve my odds. I knew when the sun popped from beneath the clouds, and again just before it disappeared behind the horizon, I'd have an opportunity for a sunburst (possible when photographing a bright point of light with a small aperture--I like f16 or smaller). Like many overused photographic techniques, sunbursts images risk being cliché, but sometimes they're simply the best way to handle compositions that include the sun. To reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the shadowed Yosemite Valley, I decided to stack two graduated neutral density filters to remove five stops of light from the bright sky. (In post-processing I would dodge and burn a little to smooth the transition.)
Fortune smiled on me that evening, as the clouds remained translucent enough to allow the sunlight to set the sky ablaze all the way to the eastern horizon. The magenta hue in the granite is reflected from the sky above and behind me. The color intensified further after the sun disappeared, but I liked the sunburst (cliché or not) and decided to go with this version.
* Website: Eloquent Images
Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.