Friday, September 4, 2009

Sunsets and Repeated Themes

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A few days ago, Paul Lester posted his thoughts about the themes some of us repeat in our photographs. I admitted in my comment on his post that I sometimes think, from the beginning, I have been endlessly repeating the same five or ten photographs. Sure, I produce some pictures that have subtle variations in details and sometimes I manage larger changes that might briefly fool the casual observer. Even then, it wouldn’t take a genius to see that the scriptwriter is rehashing one of the same old familiar plots—just trotting in new actors—maybe even tossing in a few new set pieces or turning the opus into a period piece.

From the beginning, sunsets have been a dominant theme of mine. Periodically, I vow to myself that I will close the door on this phase and declare, “Enough. I could supply a city full of amateur photographers with sunset photos.” My effort is wasted. Ultimately, I never can resist going for one more.

The truth is that, while a part of me wants to resist photographing sunrises and sunsets and “move on” to a new subject, I never grow tired of losing myself in that splendor that marks the beginnings and endings of each day. For me, those final moments as the sun sinks out of sight are always particularly touching. Another day has slipped away and those hours can never be retrieved.

Some days end with no fanfare, and I find that touching in itself. No fanfare. No eye-filling displays of color. The sun simply slides behind the curve of the planet and the day is fundamentally gone. Then there are the days when the sun, in a last fierce blast of energy, belches color across the sky and the west erupts in a dazzling display of golds, purples, and pinks. Not all days give way quietly to the darkness. I am always awed by the drama.

I know my fascination with sunrises and sunsets has something to do with my keen appreciation of story and, after all, all stories have beginnings and ending. Great stories, (the ones we tuck away in the backs of our minds, so we can take them out and relish them now and again) have beginnings that grab us and say, “Come with me. Forget everything else. You don’t want to miss a moment of this!” The endings or resolutions of those stories are equally engaging and tend to stay with us. They often persist in our minds because they are spectacular. But, perhaps most of all, those endings that are satisfying incorporate events that are not fully predictable, while still resonating with us as ultimately inevitable. We have all read novels or seen films that were weakened by endings that didn’t meet these criteria. Sunsets always seem to be fitting endings. They are certainly predictable to a degree, but you just never know what delicious surprises may be thrown in during those last few moments.

I notice that my fascination with sunsets grows as I age. That’s probably because, like everyone else, I become increasingly aware of my mortality as the years pass. Sunsets are also about transience. No day, no matter how much fun, or how significant—or how awful, for that matter, lasts forever. These are not morose thoughts. They are simply some observations that were floating through my mind while I processed this photograph and marveled at the beauty and splendor that is there for us to enjoy each evening as one day fades into the next.


  1. I also love sunsets and like snow flakes, they are all different. If we have to be stuck somewhere, it's not a bad place to be.

  2. Steve - What a great point. I hadn't thought of it in that way. It beats being stuck on old paint cans or rusty nails.

    Do you have a collection of pictures of snowflakes? Wow. Let me know, please.

  3. I think Steve has a great point--no two exactly alike and each one beautiful in it's own way--just keep shooting them Anita and we'll keep admiring your efforts!

  4. Earl - Since it's not likely that I will ever be able to stop, I predict a never-ending supply here.

  5. Steve - I was already sleepy when I posted my response to you and I left off the critical smiley face after my request for snowflake photos. The "smarty pants" comment seemed like a good idea at the time. Oops. I do agree that the best part about sunsets (and sunrises) is that no two are exactly alike.

  6. So well written, and your point well taken. I agree, sunrises and sunsets mark the passage of the day and, indeed, the passage of life. They mimic our days as well--as you say, some pass with no fanfare and some are just spectacular. Life is truly a gift, with or without the fanfare--but we are quite blessed, are we not, when we have a little extra color to oohh and awe upon.

    Have a great day, Anita--good to know, by the way, that this is another coincidental piece of life we share on our opposite coasts.

  7. I love sunsets too, as well as the sunrise although I usually miss it due to the early hour it starts. During winter time I get to see more of the sunrise, and I think I love those mostly. Actually, I think we take in the scene better by photographing it, that's how we are used to deal with scenes we tend to like. We shoot them. Most often, I get disappointed though, the dynamic range of the film or digital was not sufficient. You exposed your picture really well, there are plenty of detail in both the sky and on the ground. I think it's a good thing, doing what you're doing.

  8. Anita, about those old paint cans and rusty nails. You know that as photographers we are interested in such things. I could probably spend a few mindless hours photographing such things. :-)

    I never tire of those sunsets either, but recent love affair with B&W have just taken me elsewhere. Sunsets just lend themselves to color, believe it or not! ;-)

  9. Paul - Now that you mention it, maybe I shouldl reconsider those paint cans and rusty nails.

    My addiction to color shows no signs of lessening.

  10. Mary Ann - I always look forward to your comments. Indeed, we are blessed.

  11. Ove - Thank you for your comments on the image. I must admit that I didn't get that exposure with one effort. The picture is a combination of two exposures. I don't have Photmatix for slick HDR, but combined two exposures the old-fashioned way with masks.

    Like you, I see more sunrises in the winter. They are wonderful, aren't they?

  12. Anita
    I like your anology of a sunset being part of a story. I have to admit I only have one or two sunset pictures but tons of sunrise images. Even here in the summer months I will get up at 4 to get sunrise light. I love the fall and winter in the NW because of the clear air in the mornings and they come at a decent hour.
    Back to your anology, I guess I am more of a beginning person.

  13. Ray - Welcome Ray. I hope you will drop by often and join in.

    I like your notion of being "a beginning person". I confess that I have been sleeping late enough that though I see many sunrises, I haven't been up long enough to aim and focus a camera. :) But, now that autumn is officially here, I will begin taking more sunrise pictures soon and celebrating beginnings. Thanks.

  14. Anita: I know that this is an old post, but I had to read it again and make more comments because I have more to add. :-) I am currently thinking about the nature of change.

    Looking that day: In the beginning, there is the sunrise. Things are fresh, new, and just beginning the day. After full light it appears to the remain the same, all day, yet, it really is changing. The sun is moving. The shadows are moving, growing shorter to a point, then longer. The light is changing it intensity, increasing at first, then decreasing.

    Finally, in the evening, we notice the changes because they have become quite obvious. Shadows are elongated, the day is cooling, and the light grows dim. We've witnessed the birth and death of another day ... change. It's all about change, that ever present force.

    Thanks for indulging me. I had to say more because I've learned more. As to how I got back here, I was reading some of Gordon's posts and one of them referred back to this one.


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