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Sunrise at Columbine Falls

Sunrise at Columbine Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Sunrise at Columbine Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Landscape photography has taught me that the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against me are the longest. In situations like this one, the most likely outcome is that the sun will rise into that dense bank of clouds, producing a gray, boring sunrise. But if the sun finds a tiny gap between the horizon and the clouds above, the result can be the most spectacular sunrise light imaginable. Here's why: On a completely clear morning, the rising sun is surrounded by intensely bright, white or pale yellow sky. White light from the sky dilutes the reddish or orangish light from the sun, and the colors of sunrise are muted. If dense clouds block the light from the bright sky, however, the vivid color of pure, undiluted sunrise light shines through the gap below the clouds like a searchlight, and the result can be astonishing.

I made this photograph at Columbine Falls, which lies below the east face of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had been intrigued with the area for several years, but my first two efforts to photograph the falls were unsuccessful. Still convinced that a beautiful image could be made there, I rose at 1 a.m. for the third time and hiked in the dark for 2½ hours, reaching the falls just in time to capture one of my all-time favorite photographs.

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