Behind the Lens: Predawn Clouds Over Whiteface

by Mark Bowie | Photography

Predawn clouds over Whiteface

Exposure Data:
1.6 sec’s, f/8, ISO 100
Nikon D600, Nikkor 24-70mm lens set at 32mm.

At 5:24am, waves of colorful predawn clouds fanned out over the iconic pyramid of Whiteface Mountain, with the McKenzie Range to the right and the Stephenson Range to the left. Most nature photographers quickly learn that colorful, dramatic light often appears around the edges of sunrise and sunset, but I’ve found that there are often two surges of colorful light in early morning, the first a full hour or more before the sun rises. Once it plays out, the colors often diffuse until the sun nears the horizon and again colorfully illuminates the clouds. So it pays to be on-site, with your composition scoped out, well before actual sunrise, as I was in this field in Harrietstown looking east to the mountains.

This is a single exposure, without a filter. The clouds’ radiance bathed the mountains in a soft glow. The effect lessened farther from the horizon, towards the foreground, and I like the result. There’s a movement afoot in nature photography in which photographers process images for only hints of detail in the shadow areas. It imparts a sense of mystery, while still giving the viewer interesting accents to explore, without detracting from the main subject. I’ve done that here, purposefully keeping the exposure in the foreground dark, as is natural in predawn, yet the edges of the rocks and flowers glow in the early morning light—one hour and nineteen minutes before the sun actually rose.

Mark Bowie is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine and a much sought-after public speaker, offering presentations to camera clubs, environmental groups and others. He is a staff instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute (API) and will help lead the Weekend with Adirondack Life Magazine workshop and two other workshops this autumn. For details on all API events, see

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