Glenn Randall Photography

Extraordinary landscape photography from Colorado and the West

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Sunlight Peak Panorama



360-degree panorama of moonset at sunrise from the summit of 14,059-foot Sunlight Peak, Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Sunlight Peak Panorama, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

‚ÄčI had already shot sunrise twice from the summit of Sunlight Peak, back in the summer of 2006, but I had never shot a panorama from the summit. As I examined the map, it seemed to me that Sunlight was quite possibly the best Fourteener in Colorado for a 360-degree panorama, with the spectacular peaks of the Needle and Grenadier Mountains rising in every direction.


Trail in Chicago Basin at sunset, Weminuche Wilderness, ColoradoYou might think that the right lens for a 360-degree panorama would be a telephoto, to draw in all those distant peaks. The problem with that approach, however, is that you end up with a print that is six feet wide and six inches high. To make such a wide panorama interesting, you need to be able to look down steeply from the summit, so you can use a wide-angle lens and make a print that is six feet wide and perhaps 15 inches high - a much more appealing shape. The true summit of Sunlight Peak is a massive granite obelisk that rises some 20 feet above the jumbled pile of boulders where the summit register can be found. Reaching the summit requires a few delicate moves on a 4th class friction slab, then stepping across a deep but narrow chasm and making a final few scrambling moves onto the summit. The level portion of the summit is so small, and so exposed, that I've never actually dared to stand up on it; instead, I've merely sat. Sunlight Peak, with its pointy summit, offers an ideal vantage point for a 360-degree panorama.


The summit is so tiny, however, that it creates a logistical problem: to shoot a 360-degree panorama, you have to keep moving to stay behind the camera and stay out of the field of view of the ultra-wide-angle 16mm lens. How could I do that when the summit is so tiny that there's no place to stand?


I couldn't remember the summit clearly enough to know if there was any way to rotate the camera through 360 degrees without getting into the field of view of the lens, so I brought a radio release that would allow me to fire the shutter remotely after I climbed down from the summit and hid behind some nearby boulder.


Roseroot and waterfall, Chicago Basin, Weminuche Wilderness, ColoradoI had gotten to bed at midnight after shooting sunset from Mt. Eolus. For the next two days I explored Chicago Basin and shot photos of mountain goats and waterfalls. Forty-eight hours after finishing my Eolus shoot, I got up at midnight to start my climb of Sunlight. I remembered the route fairly well after climbing it twice in 2006, and the ascent went smoothly, taking just over three hours, which put me on the summit at 4 am - more than an hour and a half before sunrise. I climbed to the very summit by headlamp and began experimenting with tripod positions that would allow me to rotate the panoramic head through 360 degrees. To my great relief, I discovered that I could stay out of the camera's view by straddling the summit obelisk with my left leg dangling over the abyss, then scrambling around to the opposite side of the summit to a small ledge where I could still reach up and trigger the cable release. The radio release would be unnecessary, which would make it much easier to create a stitchable series of images during the fleeting moments of sunrise.


At last it began to get light. A few cumulus clouds blushed pink as the sun rose, and the moon shone brightly as it set over Chicago Basin. I shot multiple panoramas, three frames per camera position, 30 degree rotation between each set of three images, scrambling back and forth across the summit block to stay out the frame, pausing for just a minute between sequences to let the light evolve into something different than what I'd just captured.


Mountain goat leaping stream above Chicago Basin, Weminuche Wilderness, ColoradoIn my euphoria over the magnificent sunrise, I almost forgot how precariously I was clinging to the summit, and how high was the vertical cliff below me. I've noticed over the years that sleep deprivation, combined with the variable focus of my progressive-lens glasses, can cause a moment of what I can only call vertigo. Such a moment hit without warning when I was balanced precariously with one foot on a sloping hold in the middle of a panorama sequence. Suddenly I became completely disoriented. My sense of balance vanished. For a single terrifying moment, I began to topple over backwards. Then the world snapped back into focus again. I lunged for the top of the summit block, grabbed it and steadied myself. If I'd missed, I'd have taken a 20-foot free-fall into a boulder-strewn slot and would almost certainly have been seriously injured or killed. It was a chilling reminder of how a single moment of carelessness or neglect can turn an exhilarating climb and photo shoot into a disaster.


When the color of the light faded to white and the moon set over Chicago Basin, I packed up, taking extreme care not to drop a $2,200 lens off a cliff. Then I scrambled carefully back down the summit ridge, did the twinkle-toed, tippy talus two-step down the loose, unstable gravel, scree, and boulders filling the Red Couloir, and hiked back to my camp in Chicago Basin. My mood alternated between exhilaration and somber reflection. I'd always assured my wife Cora that the most dangerous part of all my outdoor adventures was driving to the trailhead. I had inadvertently proven myself right in 2008 when I was rear-ended on I-70 by a semi. By great good fortune, I had walked away, but my 4Runner was totaled. Now I had almost proven myself wrong. I owed it to her, to my teenage daughters Emily and Audrey, and to myself to make sure such an incident didn't happen again.

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Glenn Randall Photography  |  2945 Colby Dr.  |  Boulder CO 80305-6303 | Office 303 499-3009  |  Mobile 720 320-7126

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I offer over 100 images on this site, in four or five sizes each and as many as five different presentations (loose, matted-only, framed, gallery-wrap canvas, and gallery float). It is impossible to keep every size and presentation of every image in stock at all times. Accordingly, most of the items I offer for sale on are hand-built one at a time as customers order them. It normally requires between five and ten business days to complete an order, but it may take longer if I am on an extended shoot. Shipping time is in addition to these figures. To get specific information about delivery time for a particular item, please call 303 499-3009 or email me. I will do my best to accommodate rush orders. Thanks for your patience!

All photographic prints, regardless of presentation (loose, matted-only, framed, etc.) are delicate and require careful packaging to be shipped safely. Accordingly, all online purchases will have a 15 percent charge added for shipping and handling. This shipping charge only covers shipments to the continental United States. Please contact me for a quote on shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, or to international destinations. If you would like to pick up your print at my home office in Boulder rather than have it shipped, please call 303 499-3009 (office) or 720 320-7126 (mobile) to complete your purchase and make arrangements for pickup. Alternatively, I can deliver prints in the Denver metro area for $1.00 per mile based on round-trip mileage.

All matted-only and framed prints larger than 24x30 inches, all gallery-wrap canvases and gallery-float prints larger than 30x40, and all framed panoramas wider than 30 inches, are too big to be shipped via FedEx ground and too big to fit in any standard-size art box. While these prints can be shipped, they require a custom-made crate and the cost is exorbitant ($300+). I strongly suggest that all customers who live outside the Denver metro area and who wish to purchase a print larger than the maximums specified above buy the loose version and take it to the custom frame shop of their choosing. Loose prints can be shipped rolled at the standard shipping rate of 15 percent of the retail price. I will gladly provide detailed instructions to the framer on the moulding I use and my preferred method of mounting and framing the piece.

I use elegant hardwood frames on all of my framed prints. The image above right shows the frame I use for the smallest framed size of this image. I use proportionally larger frames with the same color finish for larger prints. The moulding shape will vary, depending on the size. For more information on the frames I recommend for different size prints, please visit my framing page.

Studio Moulding frame 353-125 cherry Studio Moulding Forte 4934 mahogany-finish picture frame Studio Moulding Forte 4834 mahogany-finish picture frame

I allow returns for a full refund (minus shipping) for 30 days from the date of delivery if you are dissatisfied with the print. You are responsible for the cost of shipping the print back to me, including the cost of insuring it for the full retail value, and the print must arrive in salable condition for a refund to be issued.

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