Alabama Hills Sunrise

Alabama Hills Sunrise
A vibrant sunrise paints the clouds above a group of boulders in the Alabama Hills in California.

The Alabama Hills aren’t in Alabama (though I’m sure there are hills in Alabama). No, these hills, and the incredible expanse of boulders of every size and shape imaginable, lie at the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Mountains in California, just west of the town of Lone Pine. You’ve seen the Alabama Hills in numerous car commercials, television shows such as Star Trek, and movies like Iron Man, Django Unchained, Man of Steel, Tremors and practically every western ever filmed. I love photographing there and have planned many of my trips out west around opportune times to shoot there.

On this particular morning, however, the colorful sunrise wasn’t supposed to be in the east. It was supposed to be in the exact opposite direction, as a matter of fact. The sky to the east was supposed to be relatively clear of clouds, but with high, thin clouds to the west, which would catch the sunrise color over the Eastern Sierra Mountains. So that’s what I was set up to photograph: the snow-capped mountains with glorious sunrise colors of pink and red crowning them.

But noooooooooo! Contrary to all my research and plans, the clouds were lower in the sky, and more abundant. This caused the color to appear in the east and left the mountains to the west draped in drab grey. I held out hope that this might be the kind of sunrise light that inched its way across the sky and that eventually the color would appear over the mountains. I kept my camera, lens and tripod set up for the composition I had worked to find in the pre-dawn gloom, facing away from the color to the east and stood nervously uncertain as I watched the sky to the east get more and more dramatic while the sky to the west got more and more drab, if that were possible.

Eventually, common sense won out and I grabbed my gear and ran like mad about 100 feet or so to get set up to capture this mass of boulders under the incredible display of color overhead. I also have to admit that this is a pretty darn good image for being literally a last-second decision.

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