Capturing Sedona’s Beauty: Taking the Best Sunrise & Sunset Photographs
As the summer sun tumbles out of the sky, just before it dips below the horizon, Cathedral Rock turns ablaze in golden-fire red. The tall sandstone walls catch the day’s last rays of sunshine, accentuating the structure and texture of these petrified sand dunes. Indeed, few places rival the sheer splendor of a Sedona sunset or sunrise, especially during Arizona’s monsoon season.
From July through September, these almost daily storms form and produce spectacular atmospheric conditions. Paying close attention to the weather can yield great results for a photographer. The leading and trailing edges of a storm provide an almost theatrical excitement. Dark thunderheads roll in, teasing the parched earth with its fleeting promise of rain.Occasionally, a beam of sunlight will burst through towering cumulus clouds to produce a brilliant glow, painting the land in otherworldly colors.
Hiking with a camera in Red Rock Country can make for a rewarding experience. When I hit the trail to photograph the outdoors, I hike more thoughtfully and with a deeper sense of respect and appreciation for the land. Sedona has long been a favorite subjectfor serious landscape photographers to shoot, and as I have discovered, it is also a great place for amateurs to experiment and hone their skills. While almost everywhere you look is scenic, different times of day certainly offer better light and conditions for images. Red Rock Country is most photogenic in the ephemeral moments before and after sunrise and sunset. Many photographers refer to this time; the transitional light of dawn and dusk, as ‘magic light’ or ‘sweet light.’ Taking photos in early and late light can provide shadowy backgrounds for strongly lit subjects, yielding exposures that render richer color saturation.
If you’re like me and struggle to get out of bed any earlier than you absolutely have to, then waking up before sunrise can seem like a chore. But once you capture just one spectacular sunrise image, you realize that losing a little sleep is a fair sacrifice. You’ll be up before the day’s first light more and more, seeking to capture the majesty of a Sedona sunrise. But if you want to capture the sandstone formations alight in a fiery blaze, turn your back to the setting sun and point your camera east. Many of Sedona’s prominent red rock formations like Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, and the Twin Buttes all stand tall enough to turn glowing orange in the last few moments before sunset.
In addition to packing all the outdoor necessities, be sure to bring a reliable light source or headlamp so you can safely navigate the trail once it starts to get dark. An almost calming twilight envelops the sky after the sun sets. But then it lights back up with brilliant colors, providing the opportunity to make photographs with a lot more mood. This is one of my favorite times to shoot. Whether you are an amateur photographer or a contributing editor for National Geographic, take a hike on a trail in Red Rock Country and bring your camera. You will not be disappointed. Happy Trails!
Yavapai Vista Trail
Reasons to hike: A series of short loops and easy climbs start at the Yavapai Vista trailhead and offer up-close views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte; all from the much less crowded west side of HWY 179.
Total Distance: 1.25 miles
Difficulty Rating: Easy-Moderate
Doe Mountain: https://thehikehouse.com/trails/doe-mountain-trail
Reasons to hike: Doe Mountain is a small mesa in the Dry Creek area that provides breathtaking views from a route around the perimeter. It’s short and sweet and gives you the little elevation needed for sweeping red rock views.
Total Distance: 1.4 miles (+ about 1 mile if you follow the trail around the perimeter once on top).
Difficulty Rating: Easy-Moderate
Scheurman Mountain Vista: https://thehikehouse.com/trails/scheurman-mountail-trail
Reasons to hike: This trail is definitely among the less traveled in Red Rock Country. A short climb to a vista overlook provides some of the best elevated views of Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, Gibraltar/Lee Mountain and the Twin Buttes.
Total Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty Rating: Moderate