Chasing light

Saturday.  December 6, 2008.

An unusual set of clouds formed in the sky today.  Unusual, that is, for Portland, Oregon.  Unusual, that is, in my mind.  I’m not sure of the technical classification for the clouds I saw appearing in the afternoon.  They seemed to be a layer of small but distinct cumulus.  They seemed to concentrate along the distant horizon.  It’s hard to explain with words but I thought it might offer a unique sunset over Portland.  I headed for Pittock Mansion about 3:30 with hopes of getting some of those clouds over the city and along Mt. Hood.  I set up for that shot even though the scene was really disappointing to me.   The city was veiled in haze.  The sky was pretty bare… no sign of the really cool layer of clouds; just a few stratus.  Mt. Hood did have bright light on it at the top which was a nice contrast to the gray, bland foreground in which the city sat.  My head was wrapped around the potential that I hoped would mature.  I shot a few frames and waited until about 4:15 to make the decision to leave.  Sunset was about 4:20 and I knew that the color I wanted, not to mention the clarity, was not going to happen. The image below has been worked pretty hard in Photoshop and Lightroom to reduce haze and make it into a somewhat appealing picture.  It actually looks a lot better than what my eye saw.


As I turned around to walk back to the car I was astonished to see the color in the western sky.  A huge bank of layered clouds was lit up with red and orange.  What was I thinking earlier?  Good grief.  My intent to get the shot of Mt. Hood had apparantly wiped my brain clean of the fact that the clouds were what would make the sunset happen with the quality I wanted.  I had about 35 minutes until twilight was pretty well gone.  And I was in a location that just didn’t work for capturing the view to the west.  I ran to the car and headed up Burnside looking for a vantage point with some open view of the sky to the west.  I paused at the cemetery near Skyline Road and thought about running to the top of the hill there.  I opted to not do that since I really didn’t know the area, how to safely park and if access would be any issue.  I headed west on Skyline knowing that I’d have some openings soon.  I paused again a short distance along Skyline where there was a nice view of the sunset color through a stand of alder.  The contrast would have been nice… dark trees and brilliant color.  But my heart said that I wanted an open view.  I continued west with a building dread that the color would be gone before I got to any location that would work.  I pulled into one of the first sideroads leading into Forest Heights and quickly parked.  A group of four motorcyclists had pulled over to watch the same sunset and we chatted politely as I set up the tripod.  They coaxed me into taking a group picture of them using their cameras.  I knew that they’d be silouhettes without any flash.  Yup… kind of disappointing for them but I had to get back to my own image making.  I shot and shot.  Wide angle and telephoto.   Straight images.   Bracketed shots with HDR in mind.  The color deepened and began to lose intensity as the sun set.  I went back to the motorcyle riders and offered to take another shot of them using flash.  What a difference that made.  The group was thrilled with the image of them posing on their bikes with the sunset in the background.  They’ve promised to send me a copy and I hope they do so I can see what it really looked like.

I’ll leave this post with one image from the set.  This is a single image; no HDR.  The clarity was adjusted in Lightroom and the red/orange luminosity was deepened very slightly.  It’s a pretty accurate representation of what I remember.  Even being color blind this scene ranks right up there with as one of the very best sunsets I’ve ever had the opportunity to witness. Could it get much better?



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