Good landscape photos need good light. So when the light is bad and the weather is nasty, the natural inclination is to head somewhere cozy to eat drink and be merry rather than to wait in the cold and rain on a slim chance something magic might happen.
But here is the problem. Lurking at the edges of “bad light” are sometimes brief but glorious moments of incredible light when the gloom breaks. And if you are there, waiting, (and missing your cozy dinner), then that is all the opportunity you need to make a beautiful image.
I had one of those experiences a couple of weeks ago at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. One evening, I four-wheeled my way up toward the top of a 12,000 foot mountain across the border in Colorado to photograph the sunset. As I slowly made my way upward, the skies got worse and it started to rain.
I asked myself whether I should turn back and head for somewhere cozy. But I kept going (I am nothing if not stubborn, as my wife will no doubt confirm)
As I got toward my destination, I saw a herd of elk galloping across a meadow just above timberline, pushing their way through the mist and rain. It was amazing to just witness and gave me some hope that good things might happen.
As I went higher, the mist and fog closed around some ancient fenceposts, giving me another nice, moody image.
The mist and clouds continued to build, though gaps occasionally opened in the clouds and I could see ridge after ridge of mountains looking south into New Mexico.
But the clouds eventually closed up tight, the winds started to howl and the temperature dropped. Though I had made this long venture to shoot the sunset, that looked increasingly unlikely. I stood shivering on the mountaintop, gnawing on a hard energy bar, thinking that a warm, cozy dinner sounded pretty darn good.
But I was there, so I might as well wait, right? So I waited, patiently, hoping against hope that the sky would give me something. . . .
As the time for sunset approached, a little crack finally appeared through the clouds and the sky suddenly caught fire. (I posted this image yesterday).
For a few glorious minutes, the light poked through the gloom, dancing across the mountains and valleys and doing downright weird things. For a brief moments, the sun flared through the clouds like a prism, breaking into abstract bands of bold colors and back-scattered light.
And then seconds later, the prism faded and the sun instead backlit the mist clouds, framing warm golds and reds against the magentas of the background clouds and valley. I can’t decide if I like this image below or the abstract image above more, but I am thrilled that I got them both.
The moral of the story is obvious at this point – you gotta have patience, hope, and a whole lot of stubborn persistence. You may get skunked and that is ok, because when the magic does happen, it makes it all worth it.