Sunrise, Smoke, Spots

comments 21
Landscape / Nature / Photo Log / Photography / Sunrise


September 12, 2015, 6:52 a.m.; West Shore, Lake Tahoe. When we arrived for our annual reunion of friends on September 11, the 2015 Butte fire had been burning for two days. It was about seventy miles (as the crow flies) to the southeast of us—the same direction as the prevailing wind. The smoke was ominous. No stars that night. When we woke up early the next morning the omen had fully manifested. A thick pall hung over the lake.

It was especially dense on the other side, to the east. We arose for the sunrise, as was our habit, but the sunrise was more like a full moonrise. There was no filter on the lens but there was a miles-thick atmospheric filter in front of me. I shot straight into the sun. 230mm, 1/320 second, f/5.6, ISO 100. The smoke was so impenetrable that I could make an exposure like that.

You see pretty much what I saw. Well, actually you see more than what I saw when I made the shot. I didn’t notice the sunspots until I got the image into DxO Pro later that morning. At first I thought it was dirt on the camera sensor — but no. I checked sunspot activity on the Internet: those are indeed sunspots.


The crop above is at 100%. You’ll see them in the upper-right quadrant. It takes a hell of a fire to provide such a filter.

(Nikon D750; Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR zoom. RAW processing in DxO Pro; final editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes — near and distant — and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.


  1. That nasty smoke has aided you nicely to achieve this shot. Gorgeous. I have been to the shores of this wonderous lake in the distant past


    • Thank you very much, Paula. It was there, and I was there, so I shot it. I didn’t say this in the post, Because the post was about the photograph: This is not a celebration. It is, I suppose, a peripheral document. Lives were lost. Property was destroyed. To see beauty in this seems somehow disrespectful, but life is full of paradoxes. As I said, it was there and so was I, so I shot it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t even imagine that much smoke; my mind is struggling to comprehend that is the sun – it wants to think it was the moon.

    But, as you say, it captures the beauty/tragedy paradox. Well done.


    • Thank you. Very much. One of the first posts on this blog — back in November – was taken through the smoke from the campfire in Paradise California. That photo was taken from the East Bay Hills looking west. On that day, the sun would have set exactly mid span on the Golden Gate Bridge from that particular vantage point. As it happened, due to the thickness of the smoke, the sun disappeared a good 20 degrees above the horizon. No sunspots though.


  3. Lucky opportunities like the sunspots on your image are so seldom given, it’s definitely a file/image to print and keep.
    I remember after the Gulf war and the oil well blaze, sunsets on Jebel Shams Oman were magnificent for about a year after.
    Sometimes good comes out of destruction.


  4. It’s a beautiful image, but it’s chilling, thinking about our fire problems, wondering what this year will bring. The season gets longer, the fires get worse….


  5. Amazing effects that the smoke brings. Gorgeous image. I hope with the rain this season, we will have better luck. Are you in California, Michael?


    • Thank you. Unfortunately one side effect of the rain is that there will be a more bountiful than usual grass growth, which will dry out in late summer… I’m in the Bay Area, just like you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It is getting to be the new normal, sadly. It was a terrible calamity that happened to Paradise in the Camp Fire. But it seems there are more every year. It is ironic that this picture looks so lovely considering what causes the sky to have that color.


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