The early photographer gets the shot

April 02, 2013  •  2 Comments

We've all heard the popular phrase, "The early bird gets the worm."

I'd like to enhance that phrase with, "The early photographer gets the shot."

As we all know, usually the best light for photography is in the early morning around sunrise and the late evening around sunset. This magical time is called the "Golden Hour" for a reason - the sun is low on the horizon providing a softer, warmer light that creates long shadows and photographs with lots of depth.

The other month online friend Scott Wyden Kivowitz from New Jersey contacted me. He was going to be in Phoenix and wanted to know if I wanted to get together with him and a couple other photogs to go out shooting in the Superstition Mountains area of Apache Junction, Arizona.

Never one to pass up good company while photographing I took a day off from my studio at the Arizona Fine Art Expo to meet up with Scott, Nicholas Pappagallo Jr from the Phoenix Valley and Levi Sim from Utah.

We decided to meet at 8am at the Elvis Memorial Chapel at the Superstition Mountains - a little bit late for the magical "Golden Hour". I watched the sunrise from my car as I was driving the hour to meet them and arrived at our meetup location about a half-hour early.

My arrival timing was perfect. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed the sun just starting to come up over the mountains in the background. I instantly grabbed my camera and tripod and looked for a dramatic composition.

"Cholla Sunrise at the Elvis Chapel" - Superstition Mountains, Arizona

I quickly found it. The sun was still low in the horizon and was just above the Superstition Mountains as I placed my camera and tripod in front of some beautiful cholla cactus that was glowing from the backlighting.

Because the tonal range in this composition was so large and couldn't be properly photographed with one exposure I ended up creating a 3-exposure HDR image. The final image was created using Lightroom, Photoshop, and various plugins from Nik Software including HDR Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, and Color Efex Pro 4. A couple photo textures from FlyPaper Textures were also used to give interest and excitement to the sky.

Above are the 3 original images used to create the final photograph as viewed in Lightroom.


I photographed this scene for only a few minutes, instantly knowing I had something to work with later in my digital darkroom. While walking back to my car with a nice smile on my face I received a text from Scott - they were running a little late and would show up in another 15 minutes or so. 

I didn't tell them what they missed when they arrived, figuring they would find out soon enough when I got around to working on this image ;) We had a great day shooting together and I photographed a few more scenes I was pretty happy about - but nothing with the light I had at the chapel those first few moments early in the day.

The early photographer gets the shot.

From left, Matt, Levi, Scott, and Nicholas at the base of the Superstition Mountains.


2.John Jay Pelletier(non-registered)
Matt-Just a tought, I know Barb at the Supersitition Museum-she might want to buy some of thoes shots you took of the Chapel. 480-983-4888
I don't know if you saw my Labyrinth on the Museum grounds? I build that two years ago and we have had over a thousand people walk it and sigh the Log. I even added a Century Pole for a Shadow Clock, plus it has been Bless by Chiff Bear from the Tonto Nantions.
Keep up the great work.
The Frenchman John Jay Pelletier
1.Nicholas Pappagallo(non-registered)
Awesome Shot, Blog and day we had!
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