As a travel photographer, I consider myself a puzzle solver. Despite best-laid plans, there are always elements I can’t anticipate.
For example, sometimes I don’t find out about cancellations, closures, or construction until I’m on the ground. But another reliably unpredictable element is the weather. Light is a necessary element to the craft of photography, and I truly believe that there isn’t good or bad light—only appropriate light. There is always a photograph to be had, but you sometimes have to look harder to find your pictures.
Recently, while on assignment in Asheville, North Carolina, I had only one morning left in my schedule to photograph south of the city, along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The previous weekend I’d scouted a location where I thought a sunny sunrise shoot would work well, and I’d confirmed this with a local photographer. So when my alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I looked out my hotel window to pouring rain, I was extremely disappointed but I knew I had to get out there and make something work. I sulked down to my rental car and headed into the dark downpour, hoping that I could will the weather to clear by sunrise.
When I pulled into the dark, empty parking area at Black Balsam Knob an hour later, I realized that the image I’d envisioned of sun glowing warm on the exposed granite of the hiking path just simply wasn’t going to happen. The area was covered by clouds and I could barely see the trail entrance. Sunrise wasn’t far off and the sky was still covered in heavy, gray clouds. It was time to problem solve. I threw my original idea out and thought about what subject would photograph well in cloudy, overcast light.
Knowing just the place, I rushed back down the parkway, where it wasn’t as cloudy, to a viewpoint of Looking Glass Rock, a domed rock formation surrounded by rolling hills. I set up my tripod to photograph the iconic rock as well as make images of the misty, blue-colored layers of mountain ridges. At this point it was technically after sunrise, but I could only tell that by a faint pink glow above the horizon, which wasn’t strong enough to illuminate the landscape.
I was contentedly clicking away, happy to have found beautiful subject matter, when suddenly the sun broke through to light up the clouds like pink cotton candy. I felt like I was looking at a little slice of heaven on Earth. It lasted for three short, surreal minutes.
I was elated by the beauty I’d just seen, so I decided to return to my original location at Black Balsam Knob to make more images, despite the lack of sunshine. I ended up loving the misty, dewy landscapes that appeared between the thick waves of clouds rolling over the hills. And on the drive back into Asheville, I found a nice scene where the Blue Ridge Parkway curved and mist rose up from the warm pavement.
I’d solved my problems that morning by readjusting my expectations when the weather didn’t cooperate the way I planned. And I considered those three glorious minutes of light a bonus, which, as far as I could tell, was given only to me.