Sunrise Above the Clouds

As I mentioned in my previous post, on my last morning at Shenandoah I got up and checked out of the lodge early so that I could be somewhere for sunrise with time to take photos before I had to drive to the airport. My flight was at 1:30PM so I had plenty of time to enjoy some morning light. The previous morning had some low-lying clouds in the valleys and I didn’t do a very good job of photographing this so I was hoping for something similar on my last morning.

My target was an overlook near the tunnel as it has a panoramic view and is along the way out of the park. I drove down to the tunnel overlook and found that the entire area was inside the clouds, so I turned around and headed back up the road to a higher overlook. I had passed the pinnacles overlook on the way down and made it my back-up plan and I arrived back with plenty of time to wait around for some predawn light. I scouted around and decided against shooting east into the sun as the view wasn’t very good and the clouds were basically running north-south. The eastern horizon looked promising, so my plan was to hopefully catch these high clouds above the mountains as they light up just before sunrise. And in the space of a couple of minutes they began to pick up hints of deep orange, transitioning towards yellow and eventually white.

The light was striking the undersides of the clouds at just the right angle and the colors were breath taking. I made sure I had my tree-line fading into the more distant line of the clouds against the mountain and excitedly took photos. I had my camera set to bracket with high-speed continuous shooting. So, I tried to appreciate the beautiful light while the camera did its rapid click-click-click-click-click over and over again taking five bracketed photos at a time. I have a huge memory card, so I just wanted to be able to pick the best to process later. There is some highlight saturation in the above photo, but not much; it was a colorful scene.

With the cloud color fading, I knew that not long after the sun cleared the horizon it would bathe the mountain side in beautiful golden light, so I waited. Another photographer was working on shooting the sun through some tree branches and don’t think he really anticipated what was coming. The dark mountainside began to pick up the first hints of sunlight and I remember shouting to him “Here comes the light! Here comes the light!”. The mountains and low clouds in the valley began to light up with golden light, I was grinning ear-to-ear, and the camera kept up with its “click-click-click-click-click” (I wasn’t missing a shot due to bad exposure).

The below photo was taken within the first minute of a new day’s sunlight across the autumn mountain side.

I tried several variations on a composition trying to figure out how much of the mountainside on the right to include and trying to get the more distant mountain on the left sticking through the clouds. I decided on the above as my favorite as the ridge line on the right and the sloping mountainside on the left lead you into the photo toward the horizon. I probably spent most of my processing time on some really bright foreground grass that I felt stuck out like a sore thumb. It is quite muted in the above image behind the watermark. I also enjoy the deep sea blue sky at the top fading down to the warm horizon and I think the camera captured this quite well. By far my favorite photo of the trip; I don’t know what I would do to make it better – maybe grow that distant mountain on the horizon a little.

I later experimented with the very green tree against the autumn mountainside. The tree was unfortunately not getting a lot of sunlight and is quite dark even with the boost I gave it in Lightroom. The lower left corner was actually a stone wall at the overlook that I removed and filled with grass in Photoshop.

I thought this might work well against the distant mountain in the clouds. Maybe if I could have gotten over to the right with a slightly longer focal length, but I was on the edge of a hillside and didn’t want to risk climbing out there. Below is a crop that makes the distant mountain a little stronger in the composition. What do you think?

Well that was sunrise from the pinnacles overlook at Shenandoah. I carefully packed up my gear and headed for the airport after this. I enjoyed Shenandoah a lot for the great scenery and fun hikes. Maybe I’ll go back some time.

16 thoughts on “Sunrise Above the Clouds

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