In his role as Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks made a great summation when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know that you’re gonna get.” Sunrises and sunsets are the same way: even if the sky is deeply overcast, don’t discount the possibility of getting a great shot. And even if the day looks great, the sunset may not be flattering.
Case in point: I was on the Big Island for a couple days of shooting Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (honu) that come out in the afternoon to nap after gorging themselves on Limu (Hawaiian seaweed). There was a deep overcast (Mother Nature’s soft box) that hung over the Island all day, which worked well for photographing the honu, but probably wouldn’t bode well for that evening’s sunset. As my flight back to Maui was later in the evening, I decided to chance a good sunset, and I set about finding a good location.
I found the right spot about 30 minutes before sundown. Tucked beside a small beach, a small lava bay opened towards the ocean – the lava topography providing ample places for the ocean to bounce and course its way towards shore like a pinball machine of sea foam. It was beautiful, but the drab overcast left the scene looking dank and dull. I setup my camera anyway, hoping that the atmospheric conditions would change.
As time passed, the conditions did change. More clouds rolled in, and with 15-minutes before sunset, I was beginning to feel as though I was in Seattle in January, albeit much warmer.
With five minutes left on the sunset clock, the sky started to gain a pinkish glow and the sun started to peek through a small break in the clouds. As the sun descended through the thick layer of vog, it shone like a crimson orb, backlighting the rolling surf with intense aquas and white foam. It was two minutes of sheer bliss that ended as quickly as it began.
Similarly, I’ve seen countless days where I’ve left my studio in incredible weather, get to my shooting location, setup the camera and watch it deteriorate to downright ugly within minutes. It’s truly interesting how opportunity and chance interplay in photography, especially when it comes to weather and other atmospheric conditions.
This week, the weather has been rather bipolar: High winds, driving rain, and thick clouds followed by clear and sunny skies, all changing by the hour. That still didn’t stop me from dragging a friend along with me to Mokapu beach to catch a sunset. As I setup my tripod, he was hesitant, bemoaning the prevailing conditions which weren’t favorable. I convinced him to setup his gear, luring him with a Diet Coke.
Looking at my watch, I knew the sun had about 20 minutes before it dropped beneath the horizon, but you could have fooled us at the darkening gray scene. In moments, the cloud layer at the horizon thinned, the sun peeked through, and a warm glow settled over the ocean. A collective “Oooohhh” Our shutters started clicking and the clouds literally parted.
With the sun set and twilight’s glow upon us, we marveled at the incredible scene that evolved from nothing. We took a chance and were rewarded. The weather today isn’t all that great, but I’m going to chance it. I can’t wait to see what surprise is in store for my lens tonight.