Looking West

“But even the longest day wears to sunset.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley

 Growing up in northern BC, our home was positioned in such a way that every evening we were facing a beautiful sunset across the lake. It’s possible (certain) I took many of those sunsets for granted, particularly since I was just a bratty kid for many (all) of those years. Subsequent locales have not afforded the same views of the setting sun, either in the mountains, where the sun just sank below the ridge with little fanfare, or in the city where the sun puts on its finest show directly behind the apartment building across the street.

Despite the current obstacles between me and the setting sun, I think I actually notice and enjoy more sunsets now than I did when it set outside our dining room windows every evening. These days I have to work a little harder to go enjoy a sunset, and like most things in life, the more intentional you need to be and effort you need to expend, the more you appreciate and enjoy the results.

There are dozens of great spots to go watch a sunset, all within about 30 minutes drive of my place. I try to get out at least once a week to one of the spots, there is something calming about watching the sun leisurely sink below the horizon, the noticeable change in temperature that occurs, and this may be my imagination, but even the way sound carries differently. Each sunset is like a gentle closure to whatever occupied your mind that day, and if you can allow it, a time of peace before the business of tomorrow rears its chaotic head.

Often I like to watch the sunset alone, as there is no sense I am on someone else’s timeline. I can take as long as I like, and can completely absorb myself in the experience. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to share the experience with someone, either because I sense they need a little of that sunset magic in their life, or to share with them a spot they can return to on their own terms in the future.

One of my favourite evening haunts is Iona Beach in Richmond. There are several things I like about that location, including the super long causeway where you can walk out to the end and watch the planes fly overhead on their approach to YVR. I also like the variety of shoreline features, from logs and rocks, to spaces almost like sand dunes. It is also a bird sanctuary of sorts, but the bramble has grown up so high around the lagoons that I don’t put much effort into that area of the park. A trip to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is much more enjoyable if you are specifically looking for birds.

On one particular occasion, my friend who lives next door came with me to Iona Beach, she wanted to see the park before taking her whole family there. We got there quite early in the evening. After quickly checking the spot I wanted to come back too closer to actual sunset (an awesome lone tree that becomes a lovely silhouette against the sunset), we took a walk out on the causeway. We had a great chat, felt the ocean breeze, and enjoyed the seagulls playing in the wind. We got back to the beach and I set up my tripod and camera with the lone tree and settled in for the short wait for the light to be just right. Just as the sky was beginning to colour, a couple walked into my frame. They didn’t just walk in, they may as well have set up camp, climbing up onto the highest viewpoint and standing directly in my shot. For a brief moment I was irritated, I mean, I’m 5’11”, I’m easy to see, and there were other clues, the tripod, the camera, the fact that I was there first. I contemplated approaching them and asking them to move down the beach a bit but then I realized, they were really there for the same reason as I was, to feel the significance and magic of the setting sun. Rather than interrupting that for them, I changed my shot and told a different story instead. I really like the result, and guess what?  The lone tree is still there for future sunsets.

Sometimes the wrinkle in your plan turns out ok. I particularly liked how this worked with the layer of clouds just over their heads.
Sometimes the wrinkle in your plan turns out ok. I particularly liked how this worked with the layer of clouds just over their heads.

 Once I had a few shots that I liked, I rejoined my neighbour and we watched the dying light for a while before heading home. It was an enjoyable and peaceful experience that I’m glad I didn’t blemish by giving in to the initial flash of irritation at a plan foiled. After all, how can you possibly sustain a sense of irritation in the glow of a golden sunset?

Speaking of letting go of control of the situation, including the location, there was another rather impromptu sunset capture this summer that I quite like. The plan was that I would meet a friend for dinner, then we would head to Spanish Banks to watch the sunset. It was a solid plan, and we did in fact achieve it, but not in the leisurely timelines that I usually follow when seeking a sunset. We met for dinner as planned, that part was leisurely, a bit too leisurely, in fact. When we emerged from the eatery, the sky was already a lovely golden hue. Again, my urge to control situations crept in, bringing with it a bit of tension as I considered we had missed the best light. My friend has lived in the area for years, and knows the beaches along Spanish Banks very well. I was driving, and he was giving directions to me. His directions led us past beach after beach, view point after viewpoint. I was getting more and more tense, as I could see the sun touch the horizon. Finally he indicated the spot, just a little pullout, with a few steps down to a small outcrop of rock you could stand on to be near the water. The shot below is the first shot I took when we arrived.

After the leisurely dinner, and the drive that seemed to take ages, my friend directed me to this spot. There was time to take one or two shots before the sun sank below the horizon. In this case only one shot was really required, it was such a lovely location, with the beautiful overhanging branch.
After the leisurely dinner, and the drive that seemed to take ages, my friend directed me to this spot. There was time to take one or two shots before the sun sank below the horizon. In this case only one shot was really required, it was such a lovely location, with the beautiful overhanging branch.

We caught it just in time, and were able to enjoy the calm for a while as night slowly settled in. All my worrying had been for naught. I wonder how many sunsets it’s going to take before I finally learn the lesson to let go of things outside of my control? Maybe the lessons are so beautiful, I’m subconsciously choosing to remain a student!

I am just about to set off on a rather adventurous vacation that I will share with you on my return. To help me transition from frantic work brain to steely adventure brain, I thought a stormy, blustery sunset would clear the cobwebs and help me shift my focus. I headed back to Iona Beach with the intention of finding a new angle to capture. It was far too windy to look for my lone tree, it would be whipping around like a frenzied dancer, mesmerizing to watch, difficult to photograph!

Instead I followed the light and it took me to a new spot, overlooking the causeway from a completely different angle. The clouds were shifting constantly with the wind, breaking up the light, creating rays that highlighted different features of the landscape moment by moment. It was a great chance to play with white balance, testing out how to best capture the rays of light. The shot below was not one of the ones where the light rays were as prominent, but I really liked the birds. Yes folks, that is how scientific this all gets!

It was a blustery evening last night, with very dramatic clouds and light. It seemed the perfect evening to go look for new angles at Iona Beach.
It was a blustery evening last night with very dramatic clouds and light. It seemed the perfect evening to go look for new angles at Iona Beach.

Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan has written ““Every sunset is different, because every day sun is different, clouds are different, space is different, reflections are different, mountains are different, fogs are different, and above all, we are different!”.

What a nice thought, that we can end each day as a different person, and have a new chance to be who we are meant to be with the rising of the sun in the new day. I likely would not have carved out the time to experience sunsets the way I have, where it not for the intention to capture photographs of the setting sun. One more positive thing photography has brought into my life!

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