In between leading the exciting “Paint With Light” workshop with the Phippen Museum last Thursday and the popular “Watson Lake” workshop with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops this weekend, I managed to sneak in a free day of my own photography on Friday. Given my enthusiasm for rocks and water (and since I was already in the neighborhood), spending some extra time wandering about the fantastical jumbo rocks at Watson Lake was an easy and obvious choice for me.
After enjoying windless, crystal clear conditions the evening before (perfect for our night sky workshop!), it was of no surprise my free day began with blue skies overhead. I started off on Watson Lake’s western shoreline before sunrise. Since nothing of interest occurred in the sky, I ended up filling my memory card up with mostly reflections and abstract water patterns. After a few hours of delightful play, I began visualizing where I wanted to perch myself for the afternoon and evening.
I noodled on an idea I came up with about three years ago while walking along the Peavine Trail on the eastern side of the lake. From experience, I recalled this easy-going path offered the best prospects for side and backlighting in the evening at this time of year. Instead of stopping at my usual favorite spots, I wanted to climb to a high point along the shoreline to get a more aerial perspective. Easy said than done, though, as few trails lead to the tops of the granite boulders high along the edge of the lake. Using the Google Maps displayed on the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my iPhone, I determined I could start along the aptly-named Tree House Loop just beyond the Peavine Cove and then rock hop off-trail to a spot I found photogenic.
With my afternoon plans set, I headed to Prescott for a quick lunch to refuel. By then, clouds had started to roll in one by one. By 3 pm, fairly dense cloud covered the sky such that if the current conditions prevailed through sunset, direct light illuminating the rocks did not look promising…
While I am aware of them (mainly to decide what to wear!), weather conditions play no factor in my decision making process to go photograph or not. I always go regardless of what Mother Nature throws out – rain, sun, fog, hail, blizzard, etc. I love the challenge of seeing what I can creatively develop from the canvas she provides to me…and truly, you never know what you get until you get outside. That said, I am a sucker for sunsets (and sunrises) where the sky explodes into an unforgettable multi-hued palette of color. Naturally, a little part of me hoped that was what was in store for this evening.
Although my vision was clear, my final destination was unknown so I set out along the Peavine Trail about two hours before sunset. After scrambling, running into dead-end boulder cul-de-sacs, and scouting out several options, I found a scene I really loved. After soaking in the spectacular view and appreciating my fortunate situation, I tried various compositions of the landscape under overcast skies. I settled on a favorite with my 16-35mm lens set to 16mm, set my aperture at f/18 to achieve extensive depth of field, and confirmed my ISO was set to 100. I pulled out my three- and four-stop graduated neutral density filters just in case. (Although a polarizer would have been effective considering my angle to the sun, I generally do not use that filter with my 16mm due to excessive vignetting and uneven polarization, which causes banding in the sky.)
Then, I waited.
With a mere five minutes until sunset, I still couldn’t resolve whether the clouds would choke out the setting sun’s light or if the sun would sneak under the cloud layer to render a memorable fiery sunset. The glowing red light on the distant cliffs to the north near Chino Valley and a sliver of blue sky to the west above Granite Mountain gave me hope for the latter.
A few minutes after the official sunset time, the sky magically transformed from grey to pink. The bizarre-shaped granite terrain glowed. In my enthusiasm for what was transpiring in front of my eyes, I went into “SPP” – Sheer Panic Photography – mode (the state in which a photographer seemingly loses his or her mind in awe and keeps blasting away as quickly as possible to make the most of the decisive moment) for the 8-10 minute show. Besides the beautiful colors, I felt thrilled to see my idea from three years ago coming to life!
After all was said and done, the composition above was my favorite out of the twenty or so frames I made last Friday evening. My final technical settings were Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 100, f/18 at 3.2 seconds, four-stop graduated neutral density filter.