August 22 2016 Clingman's Dome sunset. - MickeyRountree

Clingman's Dome August Sunset.


Seeing a forecast for cool, clear weather, I decided to head for Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains. Sunrises and Sunsets here are legendary, but I have never been there for either. I decided to shoot from the edge of the parking area rather the observation tower. An hour before sunset, there were some interesting clouds, but not much color. The clouds to the west were so thick that it seemed the sun might just disappear behind them at sunset.

But the clouds cooperated and as the sun sank lower the colors began to appear, and a beautiful light show began and intensified as the sun approached the horizon.

Then a most curious phenomenon occurred. I had heard other photographers talk about it, but I saw it first hand. The very instant the sun crossed the horizon, half of the photographers stopped shooting, got in their cars and left.

What's the best time to shoot a sunset? Most photographers know it's in the 20 minutes after sunset when the clouds light up and colors become really bold and intense.  So the next time you shoot a sunset, don't stop until it's dark. You never know what's going to happen.

Hoping that my luck would continue, I got up at 5AM and by 6:15 I was at an east-facing overlook near Clingmans dome. As sunrise time approached, the only thing that happened was thick fog rolled in and just got heavier and heavier. Fifteen minutes after sunrise there was no sign of it in the fog.

I did get to meet and talk to a couple of amazing photographers who were also waiting. We swapped stories and images for 45 minutes until we had to admit that we got shut out that morning.

I did manage to find a couple of shots at some west-facing overlooks on my way down, but certainly not the sunrise I had hoped for.

One of the unhappy facts of life for a sunrise photographer is that we have to get up well before dawn, drive to our location, set up and hope for the best. At least with sunset photography we can see and somewhat predict what's going to happen.

Still any morning out photographing beautiful mountains is a morning well spent.