A Landscape Photographer's Biggest Challenge

Landscape photography can be challenging sometimes. Lighting condition could change fast, weather could be really bad, highlights and shadows could be harsh. But today I want to talk about the biggest challenge I think I experienced so far.

And that is to get up early enough.

To get up early is a really big challenge, especially in summer when the sun rises above the horizon before 6 AM. For example, in order to get the photo at the top, I looked on the Internet and found the sunrise was at 5:40 AM. The best lighting starts about 15 minutes before the sunrise, which means I need to be ready to shoot at 5:20 AM. Before I set up my tripod and camera, I always take some time to walk around and try different compositions until I found a composition that really works. This usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes, which means I need to arrive at the location that I want to shoot around 5:10 AM. In this example, the photo was taken at Tundra Community Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes two hours of driving from where I live to the trail head. That is to say, I need to leave home before 3:10 AM.

There are some methods that can help this, I suppose. First is to scout locations in advance. Go to the location in day time and find a composition you think might work well at sunrise. Then next time when you arrive at the location at sunrise you can immediately start shooting. The second option is to camp outside or stay in a town that is close to your location. In my case, that could save me two hours of driving between my home and Rocky Mountain National Park. If I camped inside Rocky Mountain National Park or stayed in Estes Park, I probably could just get up at 5 AM and still get the photo.

Getting up 3 AM in the morning is exhausting. I can do it once, or twice in a while, but it will quickly make me tired if it becomes a routine. I can imagine in the future I will start camping more and more often so I can get a sunset shot in the first day and sunrise shot in the second morning without spending too much time driving on the road.

And by the way, on the same morning that I went to Rocky Mountain National Park to take the above photo, I also saw a group of bighorn sheep and a pika.