Subtle 1. slight: slight and not obvious
2. pleasantly understated: pleasantly delicate and understated

I have been addicted (just an expression) to sunrises and sunsets that are dripping in color, since I was a four year old child and watched an amazing sunrise on Lake Michigan, as I peered through my front door one summer’s morning.

As a photographer, I have chased and waited for spectacular, fire red or pure gold sunrises/sunsets with my cameras from my first week of serious photography. I have created them whenever and wherever I traveled. Of course, there is more to sunrise/sunset than a full scale assault on our visual senses. There are more delicate or subtle experiences that are also valuable. Variety is indeed the spice of life.

When I went to create sunrise/sunsets I always began before sunrise, and/or remained until after the sun disappeared over the horizon. Often, the most brilliant display occurred during those moments. In truth, it seems, depending on the location and season, most of the truly strong colors were there from just a few minutes before and after the sunrise/sunset.

I generally obtained my exposure info, by taking a 1% spot reading from the “second” brightest portion of the scene. If I wanted a brighter picture, I would get my reading from a darker area, and if I wanted a really rich, dark image, my reading would often come from the brightest area of the scene. In my later years, I would use aperture priority and read the whole scene, and then dial in plus or minus exposure as needed.

These first four pictures are deep in their color, and are pretty close to how they looked with my eyes. All are sunrises. The first two were made just before the sun reached the horizon, and final two just as it crested the horizon.

I could spend much of my life, watching and photographing sunrises/sunsets like these.

This sunrise was made in the wilderness of Wisconsin’s Chequamegon N.F.. I camped the night before within 50 feet of this spot. There is some sunrise color here. The warm cast is natural. The sun had been up for maybe 30 minutes, but a slight overcast in the sky kept the colors from being intense. I feel this scene is moody and it captured quite well how it felt that morning. Subtlety belongs in every photographer’s handbag.

This next image, made in the Colorado Rockies, was also made just a short while after sunrise. Of course here, that rising sun is still below the peaks that you see. This too was a special morning and while I preferred the images I made just before this, when the peaks were in silhouette, and the clouds warmer and more intense, this shot expresses a mood that exists in the mountains. It is a glorious place to be.

This is a sunset made in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. It was still about fifteen minutes before sunset but I loved quality of the silhouetted cacti, and the backlit clouds. There is a somewhat “pinkish” cast to the sky. After making this image and others, I managed to lose my way in the desert and finally emerge near my car at about 3:00 a.m. .

This Rocky Mt. sunset shows a good example of aerial perspective. The farther we get from the camera location, the brighter the scene gets. The layered effect. You can see the warm colors, and the beginning of sunset in the upper sky.

Now we are beginning to see more color. This is still a subtle scene. The clouds and their color, and their reflection, are being lit by a sun that is just peaking above the horizon but in back of the trees.

This is Wisconsin’s Nicolet N.F. I have made good use if Wisconsin’s north woods over the years.

Here we begin to get some vivid colors in the clouds, but those clouds are still a small enough portion of the image, to keep the photo in the category of being understated.

While this image is still less overwhelming than today’s first picture, the scene is bringing us back to the spectacular. The cool “bluish” skies, contrast with the fiery, hot colors of the clouds, and the sharp edged silhouette of the tree contrasts with the sky, to make this (for me) a soothing, yet alarming picture, all at the same time.

I believe this was made on the prairie just after sunset.

Whether you capture a “fire in the sky” or a subtle, gentle expression of early/late day, sunrise and sunset image making is a part of being a photographer. In some respects, it was the most successful part of my photographic life.

Go out and be both subtle and brash. Above all, go out and create the images that live inside yourself.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”
Walt Whitman


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