Sunrise in the White Tanks

It’s Saturday morning, and I’ve been up since about 4:40AM.  Since I was awake anyway, I decided to take a chance that there would be a great sunrise, so I loaded up my little collection of equipment, got in the car and headed west on Olive Avenue toward the White Tanks.  It was still pitch dark when I left the house, but I had no idea of where I might setup to shoot, so I wanted to give myself time to find a good area where I could get a wide view of the Valley.  I thought that the White Tanks Regional Park might be a good bet, but I wasn’t sure what time the gates opened.

Sure enough, when I got there about 5:45, the gates were closed and it was still pitch dark.  I turned my car around and pulled over to the side of the road, thinking that I would just wait for sunrise, but after about 20 minutes I decided that that probably wasn’t the safest course of action…me, all alone, sitting in my car in the dark on the side of a desert road.  So I started the car up and drove back east toward civilization, taking a quick side trip north on Citrus Road to see if there was anything interesting there (there wasn’t).  By then, I decided that I needed some coffee since the sun was taking its sweet time coming up, so I drove back to Litchfield Road and picked up a breakfast sandwich to go, along with a large cup of joe at Burger King.

By then, I figured that the gates would be open at the park, so I headed back west, paid my $6.00 entrance, and got some tips on the best places to setup from the retired couple that were working the booth.  I drove into the park just as the sky was beginning to turn orange in the east, found the spot that they had suggested and parked my car.

White Tanks sunrise

After that, it was a comedy of errors as I tried to get my camera mounted on the tripod in the dark.

  • Lesson #1 – Always carry a flashlight with you on early morning or late evening photo shoots.

The D5000 has a flip-down view screen on the back that’s pretty nifty….you flip it down, turn it around, then flip it back up to see the controls.  Problem is, you can’t do this once the tripod mount is attached to the camera, and I forget this every time.  So I had to remove the tripod mount, flip the screen, and then re-mount the camera (while the sky is getting more and more beautiful…).

Then I start moving the tripod around to the get the best angle, and in the dark I almost took a tumble down the side of the mountain when I didn’t watch where I was stepping.

  • Lesson #2 – Watch where you’re stepping when you’re all alone on a photo shoot.

I finally got the camera setup and started taking some shots, trying to play with the different settings.  When I tried to view the shots I had taken, I found that the display was in calendar mode, which on the D5000, shows you an actual calendar of the month with a teeny-tiny view of the last shot that you took on each day.  So I was frantically trying to remember how to change the display back to the full-screen view, and I kept hitting the wrong buttons on the camera, partly because it was dark, and partly because I didn’t remember which one to hit.  I finally got out my Blackberry and used it as a flashlight and found the right button (it’s the zoom button, just for future reference) so that I could see my shots as I took them.

  • Lesson #3 – Check all the settings before you put the camera away each time, so that it’s as close to ready as possible when you go out the next time.

The first few shots that I took looked blurry to me, so I finally put the camera on Sunset mode (an automatic setting), setup the interval timing to shoot automatically, and then just drank my coffee while the camera did its work.  Without a cable release (which still hasn’t arrived), it was the best I could do.  It was a wonderful moment of zen, just listening to the camera click every 15 seconds while I enjoyed the beauty of the sunrise, the crisp morning air, my coffee, and the peaceful surroundings.  I was so thankful that I have the means and the physical ability to have an experience like that, when so many others do not….and I do not intend to take these opportunities for granted.


After the best part of the sunrise was over, I got in the car and drove around the park to reacquaint myself with the area since it’s been several years since I’ve been there.  I stopped and took a few more shots of desert stuff, including one of the Phoenix skyline with the Cardinals stadium in the foreground.  I left the park then, but on the way home I stopped when I saw some beautiful flowers growing wild on the side of the road, and I got a few shots of them that turned out pretty well.

After I got home, I transferred all the photos to my computer to see how I did.  I had set the camera to take pictures in both raw (.NEF) and JPG format, so I had a lot of megabytes to transfer.  In all, I took 130 shots, and after I weeded out the ones that were obviously bad (blurred or dark), I was left with 84 usable shots.  Some are much better than others, of course, but using the interval timer really helped on the sunrise shots.  I got a great progression of shots showing the gradual change in the color of the sky and the movement of the clouds, so I was very pleased with the project.

One of my next big projects will be to start organizing my photo files, as well as archiving some of the old stuff.  My laptop won’t be able to handle my new hobby if I don’t clean off some space.

My next project will be the Glendale Glitter and Glow festival this evening.  I’ve gotten some great tips from members of the Flickr D5000 group, so we’ll see how it goes.



  1. Pingback: White Tanks Regional Park at Sunset « the Zen of Zann

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