Posted by: kerryl29 | April 28, 2011


Sometimes, getting “the shot” means waiting, and occasionally one must linger longer than anticipated.

Case in point:  when I was out in the Pacific Northwest a couple of years ago, I had the distinct advantage of being advised on locales by Portland, Oregon-based professional photographer Jack Graham.  Among the locations he recommended was Mt. Hood at sunrise from Trillium Lake, in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  He offered to show me the spot and I enthusiastically agreed, so we got up at 3 AM one morning to make the drive from the Portland suburbs in time to set up for mid-July civil twilight at Trillium Lake, about an hour away.

Weather forecasting in the area is notoriously unreliable and while the stars were out in the Portland area, we hit a light mist as we neared our destination.  It was still dark when we arrived at the designated spot, but there was a visible heavy fog.  As the ambient light gradually improved, all it did was make the fog more visible.  It was past sunrise when Jack gestured with his hand, indicating where Mt. Hood would appear if the fog wasn’t blotting out any hope of seeing it.  Sunrise had been a rumor at Trillium Lake that morning and we packed up and headed toward the Hood River Valley and the Columbia River Gorge to check out other opportunities.

I had two more mornings based in the Portland area; my itinerary had me heading to the Oregon Coast late morning of the third day.  Jack was unable to join me again, but I knew how to get to Trillium Lake on my own now and I was hellbent on getting that shot.  So the next morning I was up again at 3 AM and shortly thereafter on my way back to the Mt. Hood National Forest.  I drove through a light rain on the way there, but I was hopeful that this day would be the reverse of the last.  This time, I reasoned, I was leaving the poor weather behind me instead of heading into it.

No such luck.  I arrived at Trillium Lake to find it enshrouded in fog and moistened by a light rain.  I waited until after the appointed sunrise time and never caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood.  I finally left, and spent the remainder of the day shooting waterfalls in the Gorge.

On the third morning, in a near-“Groundhog Day” dementia, I was up at 3 AM and hit the road for Trillium Lake.  This was my last chance;  I was off to the Coast later that morning.  This time, I had reason to be optimistic.  Not only were the stars visible in the Portland area as I departed, they were still visible when I hit the Mt. Hood National Forest boundary and, better yet, when I hit the turn off for Trillium Lake I could still see them.  Mostly clear skies!  I was finally going to see the mountain at daybreak.

The access road to the lake is a couple of miles long and heads downhill.  As I rounded the final turn before reaching Trillium Lake itself, my heart sank.  The lake was enshrouded in a low-hanging fog/mist; the mountain was hidden.  Facing the lake, I turned around and could see sky behind me.  But the lake itself was producing the conditions that were causing the fog.  Still, I was hopeful that as it warmed up the mist would burn off and Mt. Hood would be revealed.  I wasn’t facing a weather system this time, merely a set of present conditions.  So, I unloaded my gear, set up in the direction that I presumed the mountain could be viewed and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Still no mountain.

After about 30 minutes, another photographer showed up, and we chatted for awhile.  He’d driven down from the Portland area too, in hopes of shooting Mt. Hood.  We commiserated about the bad luck with the mist.  We could see the sun come up, burning through the fog to some degree…but still no mountain.  So much for a sunrise shot.

After another 30 minutes or so, the other photographer left in frustration.  I stuck around.  At this point, it was about more than just getting the shot.  I simply wanted to see Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake!  Three straight mornings getting up hours before the rooster’s first crow can produce some pretty strong emotions, let me tell you.

I figured that I had until about 9 AM before I had to take off.  Sunrise had (allegedly) been around 5; at this point it was after 6.  I still had nearly three hours.  If that mountain was going to be visible, I was going to be there to see it.

For some time, it had seemed to me, the fog was thinning.  Perhaps it was my imagination, I thought, but somewhere around 7 AM I caught a faint outline of one of the slopes of the peak.  Sure enough, I kept staring and more and more of Mt. Hood began to reveal itself.   As soon as I had a full outline, I began shooting.  It was long past sunrise, but the light was still eminently shootable and the mist was still working as a kind of diffuser.  I shot and I shot and I shot.  After about 30 minutes of this, on the left-hand bank of the lake, I could see–through the fog–someone slip a small boat into the lake.  I waited for him to glide into the perfect spot, and snapped the image you see accompanying this entry.

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

For roughly another hour, I shot countless additional images–wide angles, tight shots, panoramas–from many different angles.  It wasn’t exactly what I had anticipated–no sunrise, of course–but it had been a marvelous experience.  Finally, a bit after 8 AM, I gathered up my belongings and left.

The moral of the story, of course, is that–sometimes–good things come to those who wait.



  1. Hi Kerry, a good post on an important subject! I just returned from leading my annual Spring Smokies workshop that was, in part, an exercise of which you write pertaining to sunrise shoots: 2 nice ones, one of which was extremely frigid with rime ice coating everything in sight, and 4 total cloud cover and/or rain. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I told my workshop photographers that you don’t shoot those spectacular sunrise/sunsets if you’re not on location and wait…wait…wait. Some of the time it pays off as was your experience with Mt. Hood. Other times, well…it is what it is. It’s never easy getting out of bed in the middle of the night for a sunrise that just doesn’t meet you there.

    OTOH, my all-time top selling fine print, “Volcanic Sunrise” ( was captured only because I exercised perseverance through a horrific thunderstorm with very strong winds and hail. Only at the very last minute did the tail end of that storm front arrive to park itself over the mountain gap where the sun was scheduled to rise in mere moments. Out came my 6×7 film camera for the second time that morning, setting up the tripod, composing and focusing with record speed. With my eye focused on the ground glass I couldn’t believe my incredible fortune when the sun finally rose in the gap turning the entire lower portion of the remnant storm clouds into a glowing volcanic red. When I saw the incredible rays projected upward, I was ecstatic. From that moment many, many years ago I became a firm believer in waiting it out regardless of weather.

    The worst streak I ever had was 17 straight sunrise shoots that were non-existent for one reason or another. However, the 18th made all the previous frustrations completely insignificant. I’ve often wondered how many “serious” photographers would endure that kind of frustration before trading the camera gear in for a set of golf clubs. IMO, perseverance pays off every time! You may have to wait for it but it’s reliable.

    I hope you have some great spring shoots my friend!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jim. Your experience on the recent Smokies workshop is being replicated; I’ve been through the sunrise/sunset run around on more occasions than I care to think about during this Kentucky shoot I’m on. I have gotten one sunrise for the ages, however–this past Monday. I can’t wait to work up those images.

      Still, it seems that for every one special event like that there are literally dozens of so-so events and outright duds. But, as you say, if you’re not prepared and on the ground, you can miss those rare gems.

      Each effort made that comes up a cropper is simply disappointing. Miss a great event and there’s the tendency to kick oneself endlessly.

  2. You’ve truly captured the essence of Oregon (IMHO). The trees (even if they’re not old growth), mighty Mt Hood, the mist and even the boater… definitely one worth hanging around for. I’m just sorry the coast didn’t cooperate for you that year….. I’ve stumbled onto some incredible lighting, but it’s pretty hit or miss. I’ve tried to figure some pattern to it, but much of it is simply being there often. I’m truly fortunate in that respect. Pity my technical skills aren’t better to take true advantage of it.

    • Thanks, Gunta. What you’ve said about the hit-or-miss nature of the OR coast weather is exactly what everyone familiar with the area tells me. If I can ever figure out a way to get myself back to out there I’d be happy to help you (if I can) with the technicals.

  3. I think photographing has it’s moments, but waiting is essenssial. We like hunters, that is all. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thanks for taking the time to weigh in.

  4. […] the theme that I could have chosen.  Instead, I should have selected a different story, one that I wrote about nearly 10 years ago, again with “perseverance” as the title.  It was a post that […]

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