Recently up in Glacier National Park I was up in the Many Glacier area and had driven by Swiftcurrent Lake on my way back to the campground. As I went past the lake I noticed a spot that would give me a wonderful reflection shot of the mountains and the famous Many Glacier Hotel in the background. So early the next morning I headed down to that location to shoot the sunrise. It was beautiful out, and just a sweet reflection in the calm waters of Swiftcurrent Lake.
But as I was shooting, there were not many clouds in the sky, but there were some on the horizon where the sun was rising, and that whole area was turning golden with the sun. I also the afternoon before had noticed that the outlet where the water flowed downstream out of Swiftcurrent Lake turned into a call rapids and waterfall area as it was channeled down a deep gorge. Putting 2 and 2 together, I quickly realized that while I was getting some really cool reflection shots, that the golden sun could very likely be putting on an even more golden show in that outlet area!
I quickly grabbed my camera and tripod, I knew I had no time to lose! I jumped into my jeep and hurried down the mile or so to the lake outlet. I parked, grabbed my gear and ran swiftly to the bridge that went over that lake outlet. As I went to plant my tripod in the middle of the bridge, I saw the golden rays of the sun as is it bathed the whole area in golden light. But in the middle of the bridge the sun was already too high, so I quickly slid to the left side of the bridge to get the sun just at the edge of the ridge, knowing that I could not only get the golden rays bathing the gorge, but I could get a sunstar if I let the sun come into the scene right along the ridge. Even in the 30 seconds it took me to get the tripod level, the composition set, the shot in focus, and the exposure right, the sun was once again too high. So I slid over another 3 or 4 feet to the left to get the sun back below the ridge. This time I didn’t need to change any settings, and seconds later as the sun broke the ridgeline I took a shot! I checked my histogram, adjusted the exposure slightly, shot it again. I next covered the sun in front of my lens with a finger, blocking the flares in my shot. In case the first shot ended up with any crazy ugly flares, I could use this shot as a flareless shot to fill in those flares.
Over the next 2 or 3 minutes, I repeated the sliding over to the left a few feet to get the sun below the ridge, shoot it as it came up so I could get the sunstar effect. Once it was too high over the ridge, I slid over some more and shot again. But quickly I was at the end of the bridge and there was a cabin off to the left that would come into the shot. So I then moved back into the middle of the bridge and composed a few shots where the sun was just off to the left side of the frame. The sun was not in the shot and so it would not cause any flaring, but I would still get that nice golden beam from it as it bathed the gorge in such delicious light. Just another 2 or 3 minutes of that though, and the sun was too high, the golden color had disappeared and it was time to wrap it up.
In the end, I got some even better sunrise shots than my initial plan, but keeping my eyes peeled, and having done some previous scouting during the harsh midday light of the previous day, I already knew a wonderful composition for sunrise. So don’t get so focused and fixed onto a location that when the light changes, or you see the light coming up in another area that you can’t quickly move and set up. Also having taken the time to practice shooting the sun and trying to get sunstars, will make it so you can quickly get setup, because often every second can count.