The Arizona summer monsoon brings 2 to 3 months of spectacular sunsets almost daily. Oftentimes, the sky appears to have something sinister in mind, as in this image from under the belly of a thunderstorm on July 30, 2015. On days when (often violent) thunderstorms occur, they often form in late afternoon either when the sun is setting or low in the Western sky. Capturing the dynamic range of such light can be difficult as strong wind usually prevents range expansion by combining a High Dynamic Range (HDR) series. In such conditions, I usually take a bracketed series of 5 exposures at +2, +1, 0, -1, and -2 EV relative to the metered exposure, then choose the best for further editing. This image used a 16mm lens at f/8. Some of the details in the upper, dark areas are lost when displayed at this small size.
I call this image “Revelation” because of its Biblical overtones. In this visualization, the setting sun, illuminating a series of inter-mountain basins of the Arizona desert, virtually screams “Behold!” Here’s the backstory for this image: Returning from a Northern Arizona ghost town shoot, I found myself driving directly into the setting sun while descending a narrow, winding mountain road. Layers of desert dust and thin clouds diffused the low sun to make driving nearly impossible. After pulling to the roadside to wait until after sunset I noticed the basins between the mountains filling with the most glorious combination of light and shadow. There was little time to capture this with the sun just over 2 degrees above the horizon. With a 70mm lens, I metered the exposure on mountains away from the sun and then underexposed one stop. Aiming the camera was difficult because I didn’t dare risk eye damage by looking through the viewfinder directly into the Sun. I accomplished this using the image on the camera monitor. When shooting directly into the sun, I always block the sun from entering the camera between frames, unblocking just long enough to get the exposure. In this way, I ran through a series of exposures during a period of about 10 minutes. This website’s banner is another image from this sunset series.
“Revelation” is available in various media from my SmugMug store. Note: In the image above, I extended the bottom border to move it above the top of the blog title.