In this case, I had to sacrifice Supper to get the Shot. As it was, I had just gotten back from a long day hike back up into the high country in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. There was still a little over an hour before the sunset and there is a very nice café/restaurant in the Swiftcurrent area that serves some great hot meals. So I thought about going in for a nice dinner after the day on the trail, but as I looked up at the clouds in anticipation for sunset, I realized that sunset where I was at would more than likely be a bust. And that’s because there was a ton of cool clouds just to the south. They were too far away to really be included in a shot here, but… if I were down around St Mary Lake there just might be some good compositions. And doing a little guess work, it would seem that being there would place me right underneath all of those cool clouds!
So I sacrificed my steak and settled for two quickly made jelly sandwiches that I could eat while I drove down to the Wild Goose Island. It was about an hour until sunset and the drive would take about 45mins, so not much time to spare, but I was off and running! There is never a guarantee that the sunset will be a blazing with color, though the conditions were ripe it. I was making good time, not too much traffic on the roads now. As I entered back into the main part of the park and was rounding a curve in the road all of a sudden there were a half dozen cars stopped in the road! Now since it was a curve, I could not see what they were stopped for, but I could see the road itself was clear, so knowing I didn’t have time to just sit on the road, I went around the cars as there was no oncoming traffic. As I passed I saw this young lady from the lead truck that was blocking traffic and she out of her truck with a camera and photographing what looked like about a 1 year old bear on the edge of a meadow. Not sure that was the smartest thing for her to be doing, but I had a date with a sunset!
I got the Wild Goose Island overlook, and there were about 4 or 5 cars there, so not too crowded. So I found a nice composition and settled in to wait for the sunset. As I looked around, I saw below a nice pond area that looked like perhaps it could reflect the mountains and the color nicely. At first the clouds started being painted with a nice golden color that often will hit the clouds up high like this just before the sunsets. Then the real show began! A little bit of orange started painting the clouds, and then this thought popped back in about that pond down below… it wasn’t too far away, perhaps a quarter mile downhill, probably less, but it was downhill... but it could make for a really cool shot… so I grab my camera and tripod and like a jackrabbit I was darting off downhill!
The path at the bottom was slightly overgrown, but I slid my way between the brush the best I could and quickly set up my camera. The clouds were just now all a glow with orange! I took 3 or 4 really wide shots. With my 16-35mm lens I then zoomed in for a couple tighter shots, and because of the brush and lack of paths I knew that would be my best compositions there. But the color was still blazing in the sky and without a second to spare I realized that if I ran back up hill as fast as I could I might still get some color in the clouds back at the more typical view. Now at the close to 6000 foot elevation I was at one is not running back up any hills, especially not with gearing 35lbs of camera gear unless one stays in shape, so thankfully, I like staying in shape! So back up the slope like a jackrabbit again, at the top I am breathing a bit heavy as I quickly put the tripod back down, put the camera back on it, compose, focus and shoot! And yes… there was still color! I had made it in time to get color at both the top and bottom views here.
Now a note as to the exposing. While I will shoot a lot of my shots in complete manual mode, times like these are where Aperture Priority mode is a life saver! Especially with the changing light, and with me changing compositions like I did. Having my camera set in Aperture Priority with an exposure compensation dialed in of 2/3rds of a stop underexposing gets me a shot that will be very close to being just what I want. I will still check after the first shot at the histogram to make sure the exposure is okay, and if it’s not, with a click flip of the exposure compensation I can brighten or darken the scene as needed. But when seconds count, having the camera set so that it can take a usable shot without thinking can be so key.
With Aperture Priority as the light fades my fstop stays on f13 and the shutter gradually stays open longer and longer. But I don’t have to concern myself with that. I can focus on the composition as often with fading light one will want to move or change angles for the shot. I do always keep a close eye on my histogram on the back of the LCD, but with the camera adjusting the exposure based on my exposure compensation I can rest easy that my exposure will be very close to being correct.
I do recommend for more static scenes or conditions to shoot manual, to take charge of your exposure. But too many people think that the sign of a good photographer is that they only shoot in Manual Mode. That’s totally not true. Now it may stroke someone’s ego to feel that way, but the reality is for a Landscape Photographer where light can change so quickly, and one often doesn’t have more than seconds to get a shot right or you are walking home with blown out or underexposed shots. So be sure to know when using Aperture Priority should be your priority…