Steelevisions Blog Rotating Header Image

Seasonal Light

Point Loma Sunrise

Point Loma Sunrise (click to enlarge)

This morning I woke up to a sight I’ve never seen before: the sun sparkling from windows on Point Loma, on the far side San Diego Bay, reflecting a fiery shimmer across the water.

Still half-asleep, I grabbed the nearest camera and my 70-200 f/4 L lens, snapped a shot, and went back to sleep.

Later I wondered, why have I never seen this before? (All right, smart aleck, I’ll admit it’s true that I’m rarely up at the crack of dawn.)

But there’s a more fundamental reason. It hasn’t happened before.

I’ve lived in my current apartment for less than a year, and this is the first day the sun has aligned with those windows across the bay to bounce light back in this direction. (Actually, it may have happened exactly 6 months ago, but that day either it was cloudy, or I was asleep.)

Of course, this phenomenon should come as no surprise to me.

Because I know that twice a year, you can stand at exactly that fiery spot on point Loma, at sunset, and take brilliant photos of the city’s buildings reflecting sunlight across the bay.

That photo opportunity is the mirror image of the one I saw from my windows this morning.

And it happens exactly twice a year. It’s so well-known that it even appears in photography guidebooks about the area. And on those magical days you’ll find dozens of photographers setting up tripods and long lenses on the sleepy streets of Point Loma.

And I have even been one of those photographers in the past.

Point Loma Sunset

The Reverse Shot (click to enlarge)

The shot nearby was taken from Point Loma last fall, during that brief span of time when the sun strikes perpendicular to the city’s streets and makes dazzling light on the buildings downtown.

What lesson is there in this for us photographers?

We’re all quite good at remembering to take advantage of the changing light over the course of a day. We know there are magic moments at sunrise and sunset, and we often build our schedules around them.

But how often do we forget that the angle of the light is different every single day of the year?

The light you saw yesterday will not be the light you see tomorrow.

Things in your neighborhood, or even your own back yard, may look today as you’ve never seen them before.

So get out there and shoot.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Toni says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with us. They’re beautiful images. And you’re so correct in saying that we forget that the light is never the same everyday. And the worst thing one can do is to not have your camera with you at all times. I’m guilty of that and pay for it dearly!

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Phil,

    I’m pretty new to photography but find myself wanting to understand and know more each day. I came across you just the other day and was inspired to look harder at the insight you offer and signed up for your “How to Shoot Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes!”

    I have looked at many online video tutorials, most of which seem to be american and most, until hard to listen to for any length of time.

    Im pleased to say that on biting the bullet and signing up, I have watch 3/4 sessions and am looking forward to my next session.

    Love the way you make it feel like a personal listen, you don’t seem to assume how much I may or may not know and I don’t feel you are condisending in any way…..sooo pleased I signed up and look forward to the rest of my course and more.

    Never replied to a blog before either!!!! Michelle

  3. Phil Steele says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I feel honored to be your first blog comment, and I really appreciate your kind words on my flash portrait course. Comments like that keep me inspired to do more!

  4. Ron Van Zutphen says:

    Thanks Phil, this is very inspirational; it makes me want to pay closer attention to the world around me. Something I’ll share with my students.

    BTW thanks for all the advice you’ve sent along – your tips have completely revamped my photography classes. Based on your recommendations for inexpensive lighting I have been able to equip my program.


  5. Phil Steele says:

    Ron, thanks for the encouraging comment. It’s great to know that my tips have helped you with your own students! Trickle-down photography instruction. : )

  6. Ron says:

    Thanks Phil, awesome shot. Reminds me of crossing into Montreal,Can. Several times in the late night wanting to stop my truck at the beginning of the bridge and shoot across the river, beautiful sight. (But never did) Love your course, very informative. Just wish I had it on disc, cos my wifi is so slow, sometimes takes an hour to watch the 20min video. Oh well, thanks, for doin what you do. Take care, and Happy New Year to you and all. Ron

  7. Kathy says:

    Awesome color glad you stumbled your way over to get it.and thanks for sharing

  8. Gerold Young says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us! Gerold

  9. Ray says:

    Good spotting Phil. One of the great things about taking photos is that you learn to see things and not just look at the world passing you by. Near my house we have a short street running east west. For about 3 days in November the setting sun turns this street into a river of gold. The local Council has filled all the road cracks with a smooth surfaced filler that catches the low light of the setting sun. Not exactly a shot across the harbour but interesting all the same, especially with yours truly flat on my belly in the medium strip. Such fun for all the pin heads who want to blow their horns. Have a great 2012. Ray

  10. Jack says:

    Hi Phil

    This is like getting free coupons for something that you have already bought,only more valuable because it is like being kicked into the present and reminding us that we really need to be aware of the light conditions each and every moment of each and every day……thx for sharing this inspiration with all of us …looking forward to enrolling in more courses….sincerely,Jack

  11. BigAl says:

    Hey Phil, getting up *real* early is something we landscape photographers do a lot! But the payback is that you get that beautiful pre-dawn smell of a fresh new day, and sometimes you’re rewarded with shots like those you’ve taken above.

    The other things we do are: (1) learn to anticipate the weather and (2) learn to use an almanac so we know where the sun and moon angles are going to be on any given day. So at the risk of being picky:

    This will not repeat every 6 months! You’re going to be sorely disappointed if you get up early on July 14 expecting to see this reflection. But it will repeat on the day that mirrors the number of days before/after the summer solstice. So if you shot this image early on January 14, that is 25 days after the summer solstice. If I were you, I’d be planning on rising early about November 25, which is 25 days before the solstice (or thereabouts).

    Like the blog, Phil. Keep it up, and all the best for 2012! Cheers, BigAl.

  12. Gina Johnson says:

    Great shot as well as a great lesson……. Thank you!

  13. Suezette says:

    What a lovely shot, it makes getting up early really worth it.
    Thanks for sharing it, I will have to start getting up earlier and having a good look round.

  14. Well said Phil! One of the great things about being a photographer is that we get to see so much more in this world, because we understand that the view depends on light.

  15. Jeffery says:

    Wonderful shot Phil.. stunning colours. Thanks.

  16. Kevin says:

    Hey Phil

    One other factor is how rare it is to get a glass-like shot on the bay. I did a night shot across the SD bay on a night after a really calm day…and it was spooky-flat. I have it on Flickr here:

    You got me thinking about seasonal angles, and one place I thought of where it comes into play is on sunsets on a pier. In winter, the sun might set to the left of the peir (assuming a west-facing pier), and in summer it might set to the right side of the pier. Crystal Pier in SD does this.

    Good lesson for sure!

  17. David Hanks says:

    Good point Phil and worth pointing out you can often work these amazing ‘golden hour’ lighting moments and angles out to the minute using TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris).
    David (UK)

  18. Hennie says:

    Thanx for sharing this,it is fantastic.All I can say is:”
    Always have your camera ready.

  19. Wallace H. says:

    Your so right!
    Thanks for reminding me to see the light and keep my camera with me at all times. Keep up the good work. I have been enjoying and learning from you for the last two years. You are one my favorite photographers!

  20. Phil Steele says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the great comments.

    @Ray – I’ve also been known to lie down in streets for those surface-reflection shots too! Occupational hazard I guess.

    @Kevin – Great night shot of the bay reflections!

    @BigAl and @David Hanks – Thanks for the tips on timing, solstice, and Ephemeris. Al, I was about to say “Don’t you mean Winter solstice?” but then it occurred to me that maybe you are in Australia. : )

  21. ron drake says:

    hi phil,
    got your email re; lighting with off camera flash and they are the best. thanks so much. \just out of curiosity with all the lens available today. which do you recommend as having as a staple in your collection….70-200 etc….
    i like the nifty fifty for portraits…

  22. Teena says:

    Thanks Phil. I’m still learning photography and taking a course with The Photography Institute but during these cold (and mostly snowless) days in Toronto, I find myself uninspired and not wanting to even get out and try. I guess I just need a little inspiration.

  23. Christopher says:

    Great post. Makes you realize that you can’t chase light. . .you have to wait for it!

  24. Jason Mansfield-Askew says:

    Like your fact that getting up early, catches intertesting light. While in Thailand I went down to the beach in Ao Nang and waited for setting sun, with lots of cloud on sky line got some soft light shoots in, and decided that it was the best I could do so walked back to my Hotel only to find when I looked back that the whole sky was red and glowing, so it pays to hang on a bit! Did get some quick shots of trees against that sky!

  25. David says:

    Pretty good stuff that clearly is not that obvious.

  26. Merle says:

    Hi Phil,

    Michelle’s reply to you is pretty much telling my story, while I’m also new to photography, I have recently completed a fundamentals course and as well as having enjoyed your tutorials on “How to shoot headshots” , I now need to get cracking, buy the basic equipment, and ….get some confidence :):)

    Thanks again fore great advice

  27. BigAl says:

    re. Winter Solstice … Dohhh!!! You’re absolutely right!! Let’s just say it mirrors around the solstices – it doesn’t matter which, so long as you count the same number of days either side. 🙂

  28. Jim White says:

    There is a neat piece of iPad software that is supportive of this type shot (which is great!!!, by the way). LightTrac is an adaptation of Google Maps which plots your sun and moon angle at any spot on the globe at any time of the day throughout an annual cycle. A great buy at about $10.

    Just Google for LightTrac or likewise in the Appstore.

  29. Ed Law says:

    Appreciated!! Living on Pensacola Bay andan early riser, I a
    am dazzled by the sunrise with the ever changing light and clouds.

    You give confirmationto my large collection of ‘Bay Shots’ – some of which Are really pretty good. Only for me, of course, but that’s the joy of retiringwiththe true “Hobby of a Lifetime.”

    Keep blogging and thanks. 🙂

    ed, the ancient

  30. Cindy says:

    Excellent sharing….thanks for all the Great Tips in this blog – Steve 🙂

  31. Rudi says:

    Hi Phil,

    Beautiful shot!!!

    I shot a single reflection of the tallest building in Melbourne Australia from the bay area. The building reflected back some of its light to the another building on the left.—-s/6703950463/in/photostream

    Love your work!!!!


  32. bbblanco says:

    thank you for sharing this things to us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Google Profile