Monday, August 6, 2012
My alarm sounded at 4AM — It was another early morning. The wind was clam, and a nearly half moon illuminated my dark campsite. I put on my boots, zipped up my tent, then set out for the Patriarch Grove. Though my destination that morning was less than 20 miles away, the narrow unpaved mountain roads require just over an hour and fifteen minutes to negotiate.
Many people feel a false sense of confidence on these dirt roads, and drive too fast. The washboard conditions can easily slide your vehicle several feet in either direction with little to no warning. This can be troublesome when there are sharp corners with steep drop-offs.
The road was now somewhat familiar, and I kept track of several landmarks as I drove through the darkness of night. The city lights of Bishop gave a sense of context far below to my left, but the dark mass to my right was unrecognizable.
I arrived at the Patriarch grove roughly an hour before sunrise, and set out to explore some of the areas I scouted the day before.
It didn’t take long for the early glow of morning to make itself known on the eastern horizon. The dolomite hills were infused with a deep blue light. It was refreshing, invigorating, and mysterious. I walked beneath the skeletons of several ancient trees — their tortured limbs reaching out at me. If I was walking through any other forest at night, and stumbled upon this grove of trees, I would have felt uneasy — but there’s something about the White Mountains that puts the soul at ease.
I found a comfortable place, and sat down to enjoy the sunrise. I watched as the faint blue glow gave way to a fiery band of red light, low on the horizon. This band of fire faded upward to yellow. The Earth’s shadow swept high overhead, and the sky took on the unmistakable shade of cyan that signaled sunrise was eminent.
I watched the horizon for the very second the sun made it’s fiery debut. It was subtle at first, a glimmer of light not unlike the headlight of a distant car. With swift ferocity, then gleaming sparkle rose above distant mountains, setting the hillsides around me aglow in the crimson light of dawn.
A subtle gust of wind swept over the mountain as the sun made it’s triumphant debut. There were a few clouds that morning, but nothing of any significance.
Given the choice of shooting sunrise or sunset, I almost always prefer sunrise. The wind is calm, and the light builds — something that I appreciate given the limitation of my equipment. The conditions I experienced that morning were no different than any other location I’ve shot at sunrise. The conditions were calm, and the light was fantastic. If I choose to photograph a sunrise at this location, I will need to select a composition that doesn’t rely on the presence of clouds.
I spent the rest of the morning scouting the grove for other photographic opportunities. The small amount of clouds that morning signaled a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms. My goal was to setup one of the easy shots I scouted the day before.
I loaded two film holders, then spent the afternoon scouting my first shot. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any golden late light on my subject, but I hoped the cloud formations would make up for it.
I exposed 4 sheets of film that evening. The first two were in the harsh light of mid afternoon, but with the sky full of clouds. Just before sunset, I took two more exposures. By then, the clouds were minimal at best.
Though I didn’t get the ideal combination of light and clouds, I was glad to get my first shot under my belt. I looked forward to trying my hand at a sunrise shot in the days to come.