BEHIND THE LENS: SUNRISE ABOVE THE CLOUDS
This photo was taken from the Witches viewpoint in Drakensberg Mountains (South Africa) at a height of 3000m above sea level in May 2012. (ISO200, F22)
This was shot on a Canon EOS 50D with a Sigma 18-200mm lens on a tripod using a cable release.
I remember waking up at 4am to get ready for a hike to Sentinal Peak. We wanted to start hiking early – in the very dark – to reach Witches viewpoint before sunrise. The walk up to the viewpoint was heavy for me; I was out of breath. Probably because my body had to adjust to the altitude. I needed more short breaks but luckily we arrived at the viewpoint in time, just before sunrise. The view was magnificent! To my excitement, a very thick mist inversion was present. The sunrise looked very promising and turned into one of my favorite images from the 4-day trip to Drakensberg Mountains.
My aim was to do a sunrise shoot at Witches viewpoint, not knowing how the weather-/light conditions would be because they can change rapidly on that altitude. The present mist and clouds added drama to the image. I loved how the clouds lit up by the warm glow of the sun and how I was able to capture the sun with multiple sunbeams.
RAW files captured by our cameras need some level of processing to bring them to life, to do justice to the scene we photographed. In this case I used 3 bracketed RAW images (-2, 0, +2) to get this final blended and edited image because one RAW image didn’t contain enough information that could be retrieved from the scene. There were both very bright highlights (sun) and very deep shadows (in the clouds). By bracketing the photographs the camera detects either of the detail in the dark areas, or more of the detail in the bright areas. I combined all three bracketed images to create one image that is a reasonable representation of the scene as I witnessed with my human eye.
I love witnessing sunrises and sunsets and I love chasing them. I don’t exactly know why, but I always get excited when the sky turns in pretty colors and guess what, it’s totally free to watch nature’s most beautiful phenomenon every single day! Before we left to hike to the top I knew it would be an activity which isn’t always pleasurable whilst you’re doing it but grant you a reward of total exhilaration and a massive sense of achievement once you’ve completed it. And it was exactly like that! The hiking part wasn’t very easy for me, but watching the sun rise across the vast African horizon was truly special. The present mist and clouds were an additional gift to add more drama to the image. I wanted to capture nature’s colorful play of the sun slowly rising above the clouds and that is what I did. I’m still very happy with the result and it was definitely worth the hike!
The Drakensberg is one of South Africa’s most beautiful landscape features and possesses some great trekking routes. Because the Drakensberg is mountainous (with an average height of 3000m above sea level) it experiences extreme weather throughout the year. From a photographic point of view, extreme weather also means you shoot some interesting images. If you want to do a sunrise or sunset shoot it is recommended to do some research (time of sunrise, the location, departure time) to avoid disappointments. Once you are on your spot you have to be patient and wait for the right moment; especially on a place like this. Be prepared to witness different colors and changing weather conditions (clouds, rain, mist, snow). If you want to capture the sun with multiple sunbeams you have to use a small aperture – the higher the number, the more beams. But above all ‘patience’ is the keyword and remember your tripod is your best friend!
In my camera bag
Normally, the first thing I pack is my Canon EOS 7D including a battery grip with my Canon 17-55mm 2.8 and my Canon 10-22mm 3.5-4.5. I use my wide-angle lens a lot! Especially for landscape and architecture photography. The third lens I usually pack is my Sigma 70-200mm 2.8. I’m really satisfied with this sharp lens. Because I’m in love with the southern and eastern part of Africa and its wildlife I recently bought a Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 L. The 70-200mm wasn’t always enough zoom, especially when you also want to capture birds or wildlife from a distance. I have a second body (EOS 50D), but I don’t use it very often since I got the 7D. Last I always carry my tripod (just in case) and a flash.