Photographers have been shooting sunrises and sunsets since cameras were invented – we can’t help ourselves. This serene scene was my reward for rising early on a Saturday. Cachuma Lake in the heart of the Santa Ynez valley is one of my favorite photo locations in Santa Barbara county. Although I made this image at the east end of the lake near the inlet of the Santa Ynez River, I was actually facing West (technically slightly Northwest) as I clicked my shutter. This is no anomaly. Whenever I am out shooting at sunrise, I tend to focus my attention to the West. Likewise at sunset you will frequently find my camera pointing East. I do this because I usually want to see the details in the foreground of my photograph, not just a silhouette.
And while it is true that the most dramatic part of the sky is often near the rising/setting sun, the sky in the opposite direction can be even more complex and subtle in its color palette, if a bit less intense. It is also true that techniques such as using split neutral density filters or combining multiple exposures in Photoshop can produce an image with foreground detail looking right into the rising/setting sun. There are many examples of these techniques accomplished with stunning effect. Other times, it can appear a bit forced or unnatural. Another advantage of ‘looking the other way’ is the gorgeous warm glowing quality of light that illuminates your foreground when you are facing away from the brightest part of the sky (i.e. the direction of the rising/setting sun). I’m really not trying to say one method or direction is better than another. As we know, every sunrise and sunset is unique. The important thing, as always is to really see the scene and then decide how to make your photograph. But you can’t see if you don’t even look. So next time you’re out for a sunrise or sunset photoshoot, resist the urge to automatically point your camera in the direction of the sun. Take time to look the other way…really, it’s o.k.