Bucket list: Cave Hills Church at sunset

There’s a photo I’ve wanted to get for years. My subject is the Cave Hills Church, situated at the base of an incredible ridge of rocks, at just the right time and from just the right place.

I’d been here before, and found myself totally enamored of it, but I’d never really caught the photo of it I wanted. I discovered this church after seeing someone else’s photo of it and painstakingly dialing in its location. Once I visited the first time – and it’s a long trip to get back there – I knew what I wanted. But how to get it?

The thing about this church – or any church, or any photo subject anywhere – is that there’s a right time and a right angle. Take this shot, for instance…it’s really nice, but it completely misses those beautiful rocky cliffs in the background! So I knew I wanted to be uphill a little bit, trying to include those cliffs.

Okay…not bad. I had good clouds to work with that day. But it doesn’t quite do those cliffs justice. The church is too large in relation to the rocky ridge. Okay, bringing a high-quality telephoto lens and shooting from a distance will even that out, with the church a little smaller and the hills a little larger. That’ll work.

But what about the light? That green grass is lovely, and the hills have a nice texture, especially when offset by that deep blue sky and fabulous clouds. But that isn’t what I was trying to capture.

There we go. I knew the sunset would hit those rocks just right, bringing out their true red color. But it took some care to finally get this shot. Part of what keeps photography fresh for me when so many of my photo friends have fallen by the wayside (aside from never doing weddings or portrait work) is the planning. I love learning about places like this, finding where they are, scoping out to see if they still exist and how to access them, and then finally capturing them. This was quite a satisfying ordeal.

I’m putting this intermediate shot in here for illustration: I had to wait for the sunset, then catch that brief, fleeting instant where the red light hit the cliffs behind the church. You can see here that the shadow is starting to creep up the hill. The church is still partially bathed by the light, which is pretty yellow yet. Once the sun went behind the peaks behind me, it took on that red hue and only fell upon the rocky ridge which was the most critical element of this little plan of mine.

By the way, this was the ridge behind me, the one which diffracted that sunset light to give me the splash of red I was looking for. Once I’d achieved what I wanted with the church, and the red light on the rocks began to fade, I whipped around to grab this haphazard shot for the heck of it. Maybe to give it credit for lighting my scene with perfection.

Of course, now I’d like to get that sunset photo with green grass, not golden stubble (it had just been cut for hay). So I guess I’ll plan another road trip to this church next year!

Morning sunset

I thought I’d start my morning – and my week – with a post taken in the evening. This is the elevator at Arena, ND. I hadn’t been there in a while, despite its proximity to Bismarck-Mandan, but I had a dear friend in town from Florida and we wanted to get out with our cameras. I had a bunch of cool places marked – that house in Robinson I featured earlier, for instance – and this was the last major spot we had planned on the way home. The evening didn’t disappoint: lots of color abounded, and even a really cool set of clouds posed in the background for us!

Curve ahead

I’ve seen these power poles many times while traveling I-94 between Valley City and Jamestown, and always wanted a photo. Well, I finally got one…barely. I was roaming around northeast North Dakota and barely made it down Highway 1 in time to grab a sunset photo of these posts. Mission accomplished. And I got a great sky to work with, too.

Bill Clinton could not be reached for comment.

What’s up, dock?

I forgot to post this photo from the October trip I took to the wreckage of the Abner O’Neal. After I was done shooting I headed back to the Steckel boat landing. I met a couple of girls along the way who were going to hike – barefoot, mind you – the half mile down to the site. I pointed out that it was private property (I have permission), it was a long and rocky hike, and that the sun was going down, so they decided to turn around and head back.

Once we got back to the boat area, I put the drone on the dock and showed them all the close-up photos I’d taken. They provide a far better view than even the closest shoreline vantage, anyway. We all agreed that the Abner is pretty cool, then parted ways as the sun began to set. I snapped this photo from the drone even though the rotors weren’t even turning, and it was a perfect way to cap off the evening.

Wednesday night sunset

I used to do a LOT of sunsets before becoming a dad.  Now I get the opportunity to run around with my cameras a bit more sparingly, as I prefer to be a loving husband and father.  But tonight I had the opportunity to bolt after leaving my studio, and I caught this wonderful sunset.

 

Lately the skies haven’t really been great for sunsets…either no clouds at all, or too many for the sun to peek out much.  That, or a long, thick row of clouds along the horizon to choke off any chance the sun had at illuminating the sky.  Well, that wasn’t tonight.

Oh, by the way…I also got out over lunch and got even more frost photos.  Tune in tomorrow…

Keep on truckin’

Do I belie my 1970s upbringing with that post title?  Too bad.  My kids and I set out for this old Dodge with the intention of working the entire sunset with it as our subject.  It was a wonderful trip.  The kids are finally old enough to appreciate not only the photography aspect, but the beauty of hiking out in the middle of nowhere and exploring.

 

I have way more shots from this area than I’ve got the energy to post for now, but let it suffice to say that there was a different sunset in every direction. The first shot in this post shows the long, linear clouds that eventually blazed over Bismarck-Mandan at sunset.  This shot shows the brilliant pinks and purples that greeted us from the north; and my kiddos took plenty of shot featuring a blazing orange and gold sunset to the west (behind the camera in this shot).

Not only was this photo jaunt a success, but I have turned the corner with my kids as far as convincing them of the joys of rural photography.  Next time I head out roaming, I expect to have a couple of enthusiastic companions!  Maybe each with a camera of their own…

Some weekend color

Three shots, two different times and locations.  One downside of being a freelancer is working some Saturdays, but this time it allowed me to be in the right place at the right time.  The skies burst into color out by my place just as I was getting home from a late gig.  I grabbed a nearby section line and swung into action.

 

These are actually from my backup camera, because when I pulled my main out of the bag both batteries had been depleted.  That’s only happened once or twice before.  But that’s why you carry more than one camera!  I had a $6,000 camera and tripod get lifted and thrown unceremoniously down the highway last winter by a sudden gust of wind – I’d have been in deep trouble if I didn’t have a second unit in the back of the truck.  I grabbed it and kept shooting.

 

Back things up thirty-six hours or so, and we’ve got this Friday morning shot from west of the Missouri River.  The spot I’d originally intended didn’t look like it was going to work out, so I stopped here.  It turned out to be a great vantage point.  Before the skies lit up, I actually left this spot; but when I checked my mirror and saw the sky coming to life I whipped back around and set up to capture the color in the clouds.

The color may be getting stripped from the trees, but this time of year there’s plenty of it in the skies.  I hope this winter is as profitable as the summer and autumn!  And no protesters, either.

Shot through a chain link fence, but I got it

This is the kind of photo that you want to edit while listening to Joel Porter (which you should do anyway).  We had a spectacular sky leading up to sunset tonight, and I was way out of position when I noticed it.

 

What had really caught my eye was this blazing hole in the clouds, and the swirling wisps behind it.  I pulled to the side of the road, found a gap in the tall chain link fence in my way, and started snapping some shots before the clouds shifted too much.

 

And it did within the span of a couple of minutes.  The sun moved into this little window, and the various clouds morphed and drifted until the hole was completely gone.  But I’d caught what I needed.

I’m not always so lucky.  Last night, while trying to get home with four TCBY waffle cones for my family still intact, I just barely missed an amazing cloud in the east.  So it was nice to be able to catch this.  A friend texted me that he was taking his camera down to the river to catch the coming sunset, but I went home to watch it on the deck with my wife.  That’s one of our favorite things to do.  I’d been on the road for work all day, and just staring up at the sky without having to try to capture it in a photo was some nice R&R indeed.

Double Ditch dash

Wednesday night’s clouds were too good to resist.  I wanted a fresh photo spot for them, but with a tiny window looking like it might present itself I opted to just find a nice high spot.  Double Ditch was the most obvious choice, although the entire site is lined with orange construction fence and heavy equipment right no.  It made for some challenges, but it also forced me to consider some angles I hadn’t before.

 

Right as I got there, a little sliver opened up in the clouds on the horizon, beaming brilliant rays of color all over the place.  Thankfully I had just dashed across the prairie grass and rolls of the Double Ditch terrain and set up to the south of the little stone hut I know so well.

 

As soon as the gold light abated, I worked feverishly to capture some of the remaining purples and pinks that managed to sneak through the otherwise diffused sunset light.  The horizon had closed off again, but plenty of color managed to find its way through the low, dense clouds that had brought me here in the first place.

 

There were some clear spots from time to time, with blues and even pinks making fleeting appearances.  The clouds were moving very quickly, and many were close to the ground.  That’s why I was here, as I’ve mentioned.  They didn’t disappoint.

 

This is the only view I could get from the stone wall without featuring dirt berms, orange fencing, and/or earth moving equipment.  Thankfully the clouds did their part.

 

I was walking back to the truck when I realized there was a different kind of show taking place to the northeast.  This turned into a cell that dropped a bunch of rain on northeast Bismarck on its way through the area.

 

This was a quick dash, but I’m so glad I took it.  The skies were really dramatic, with low, fast-moving clouds, and although I didn’t expect any grand sunset light I was treated to a few minutes anyway thanks to that sliver opening up on the horizon.  As with any sunrise or sunset, being there in case something happens paid off big.

“Some days, it’s better to be lucky than good”

So I’d taken my youngest kiddo out for ice cream as a reward for a job well done, and didn’t want him to come home still eating it or I’d have some jealousy on the home front.  So we went for a short drive.  I ended up out of town just a bit and noticed the developing sunset.  I quickly whipped into an approach on the side of the road, stepped out, and nabbed this shot.  I hadn’t put any planning into it, just had my camera handy and thought I’d give it a whirl.  I didn’t see the purple flowers when I pulled over, they were a pleasant surprise when I stepped down out of the truck.  Everything just fell into place.

One of our former producers I worked with on various TV sports crews (NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, OLN, Shotime, I’ve worked for ’em all at one point) used to have a saying, the very one that comprises the title of this post.  Sometimes you just luck out in a way that could be mistaken for talent, preparation, or both, and you just roll with it.  Check this out:

That wasn’t one of our shows, but it would definitely evoke a “lucky than good” reference.  In the case of tonight’s photo, God made the sunset and I happened to stumble upon it with my boy at just the right time, in just the right place.  You know, maybe it wasn’t luck at all.