You ever have one of those moments when you suddenly understand something that you thought you understood, but clearly didn't? Or maybe it isn't a question of understanding, but simply that the light came on? That happened to me in a big way while visiting Bryce Canyon National Park this past July. The previous April I had spent 3 days roaming Joshua Tree National Park with Tom Gamache and Van Webster during one of their landscape photography workshops. At one location Tom has spoken about how light reflecting off a rock face was illuminating the shadows on the underside of a rock face above it. I thought I saw what Tom was talking about, but it must not have sunk in.
I had my wake-up call while visiting Bryce Canyon with friends and family for 3 days. We spent the first afternoon photographing the main amphitheater at Bryce, getting nothing that really made me feel like I was getting good photos. We were working the late afternoon sun, but nothing was really popping. Somewhat disappointed I planned to catch the sunrise the next morning from Sunset Point. In reality the names of Sunset and Sunrise Points don't seem to have anything to do with their orientation to either of these solar phenomena.
Setting up well before sunrise, I started lining up some shots in the dim pre-dawn light. Once the sun climbed above the horizon I got down to some serious work, but again realized that nothing was really popping. Determined to get something, I kept shooting, mostly keeping the sun at about a 90 degree angle to the direction i was pointing my lens. But at one point I looked back toward the sun and my eyes wandered down into the bowl of the amphitheater and the area surrounding the structure known as Thor's Hammer. It was then I saw a most breathtaking sight as I realized that the sun reflecting off the faces of the yellow/orange/red rocks was bathing the rocks to the east of them in an unearthly, luminous light. That's when Tom's comments came flooding back, and I discovered the secret of photographing Bryce Canyon.
This amazing spectacle continued to play out well past what any of us would call the golden hour, and I continued to shoot, mostly in a direction back toward the sun to catch it. The effect of this can be seen in today's photo. The color you see on the rocks is the light reflecting off the faces of the rock that you can't see, but that is facing into the sun. Note also the rimming lighting on some of the ridges, which help them stand out in 3 dimensions, cause by strong back-lighting from the sun.
I certainly don't claim to have discovered anything unique. This aspect of Bryce has been known and photographed for years, but this was my awakening moment to the beauty of luminous light reflecting off one surface to light another in a heavenly way.
This photo was taken with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 USM II lens on a Canon 5D MkIII. Exposure was set at 1/250 seconds at f/9.5 and ISO 100.