Anatomy of a photo #47: Mt Tam from Mt Vision

Mt Tamalpais as seen early one morning from Mt Vision, Inverness, Ca.

Early morning. What a wonderful magical time of day. I’ve heard that from a scientific point of view the range of sunrise colors is equal to sunset, and that one is simply the other in reverse, but from an emotional or psychological view they are two very different things to witness. From a photographic point of view it can go both ways. The lighting and coloration can be very similar, and often when looking at a photo without knowledge of the location (like which way is East or West) it can be hard to tell the rising from the setting.

Well, to remove the guess work, this photograph was created at sunrise, which is my preferred of the two. There is a quietness, a slow mysterious awakening to a sunrise that is not often to be found with a sunset. Towards the end of the day, there is usually at least the distant hum of an automobile or an airplane, it is harder to become more removed from the trappings of man. No matter how far out in the wilderness and away from the cities, you know there are millions of others awake and seeing the same sun easing its way into the abyss. In the morning however, when the sky is fading from the dark, and the light is slowly growing, it is possible to imagine that you are alone out, that you are the sole witness to something magical and unique, that the day is beginning just for you. Everything else sleeps, and you get to share a moment with the world itself, a private special moment that will soon fade into the consciousnesses of all the other walkers of the world.

On the morning when I found myself atop Mount Vision in the predawn darkness, it was such a time. The world was there just for me, all else slept, and I was a lone witness, trying to experience the moment and capture it at the same time that I might share it with others. I stood up there, next to my tripod, the shutter release cable in my hand, taking in the moon on one side, the stars above, and the silhouetted mountains and trees growing against the turning sky. I saw one of my favorites, Mount Tamalpais, the aptly named “Sleeping Princess” to the side, barely in view, and thought she was a fine lady to begin the day with. So I pressed a button, and my shutter rose, and for 3.2 seconds light eased itself into shape on the sensor of my camera.

The settings were fairly simple- ISO 100 for a lack of noise. Aperture cranked down to f40.0, and a lens length of nearly 200mm. This combination gives a tight composition, while not causing the depth of field to be too shallow. Both the nearby burnt skeleton of a tree and the distant, misted mountains are fairly well in focus.

I like to use long lenses for landscapes. The composition is often simplified, and distances compressed. It will either flatten everything or layer it, the latter being preferred. So often people head straight for the wide angles when shooting landscapes, trying to fit it all in, but sometimes it is better just to keep the important parts in. It can give more meaning, keep things from becoming diluted.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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