Ask someone, “where is a great place to shoot the sunset?” and you’ll probably get an answer.  But it might not be the answer you’re looking for.  One question I ask myself is, “do I want to capture the setting sun, or the colors in the sky?”  For this shot, we were in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I was hoping for a colorful sky.  Patience paid off.

For me, this photo developed over more than an hour.  We found a turnout (Ben Morton Overlook) where I liked the landscape as a subject – the valley and the mountains.  The angle of the sun and some clouds held promise.  I shot the image below at about 6pm; sunset was to be 6:53.  

We found our spot early enough; scrambling for a location as the sun is setting rarely works out.  Now, I just needed to wait.  After a short time, someone arrived and asked if I were going to shoot the sunset from here, and had I shot sunset from here previously.  That would be, “yes”and “no.”  She was startled.  How did I know this would be a good spot?  I told her that I liked the landscape, and hoped for enough clouds to get some color in the sky.

As the sun disappeared below the mountain, I captured this “sunset” photo at about 6:15.  At least I have something if the sunset is a bomb.

At 6:40, some color begins to develop in the sky (below left); but, not too much so I minimize the amount of sky in the composition.  At 6:56 (three minutes after sunset), we have a beautiful orange sky.  “Not a bad result,” I think.


But I never give up on a sunset until all color is gone from the sky, and at 7:05 pm I was rewarded with the explosion of color and the interesting cloud shapes that became my May photo.  The orange sky gives a fire-like glow to the trees, ridges and valleys below.  I picked a good spot and got a lucky break from nature.