The much touted sunrise spot is probably better at sunset for photographers. View from the top of Temple IV @ Tikal.
This blog post is part of of our trip to Guatemala and Honduras in Dec 2012 amidst the evocative Mayan ruins in a lush jungle, a quaint lazy colonial town and a tropical Caribbean beach.
Other articles in this series: Tikal Sunrise and Sunset Spots for Photographers | Astronomical Observatory of Uaxactun |Smoking Frog of Uaxactun | Following Frederick Catherwood | The Mayan Ruins of Copán |The Modern Town of Copán |
Sitting on top of Temple IV in Tikal National Park, I was cursing myself. I probably should have the “Mr. Green Jeans” chapter in Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure one more time. That particular chapter deals at length with handling compositions that are monopolized by the green color. I could have used that advice. Did he say expose the greens at 2/3rd? or was it –2/3? For the love of photography, I could not remember.
Perched on top of the tallest pre-columbine structure in the Americas, I was surrounded by a blanket of green, as far as I could see. It was a typical crisp tropical morning. The jungle was waking up beneath me. Two teams of howler monkeys were competing vociferously , their cries, like wind gushing through a tunnel, were reverberating through the thick canopy. The mist was rolling in fast in the background. The sun had just popped out at the horizon somewhere down there and I was hoping the mist did not engulf the Mayan temple roof-combs before the sun peeped from behind Temple III.
The sun won by a few seconds.
No sun, no problem, Mist to the rescue. View from the top of Temple IV @Tikal
I had climbed the 250 odd wooden steps of Temple IV previous day too. All four sides of the ancient temple are covered with vegetation, hence the modern wooden steps, which, having climbed many Mayan pyramid-temples, are a boon for photographers. The morning after 13 Bak’tun was muggy, the much hyped Mayan end of the world prophecy already an old story. The sky had been clear when we set out from our cottage on the edge of Tikal National Park. But within minutes of the sunrise, clouds appeared out of nowhere like a well planned coup and completely shrouded the sky.
Sensing no possibilities of a sunrise, on that day, I was prayed for the mist, to add texture to my photos.
This designated sunset point in Tikal is a photographer’s sunrise spot. Top of Temple 22 @ North Acropolis. Tikal
Unless you are being led by a photographer, you can expect a local guides to take you to the right spots on the wrong end of the day. For them, a sunrise point is a place to spot the sun rising. The photo above was made from the pinnacle of Temple 22 of the North Acropolis in Tikal. The temple on the extreme left in the frame is the Temple of the Masks. Back over the treetop, on the right, you see Temple IV, from where I had shoot at sunrise.
You can see why this cannot be a photographer’s sunset spot, even on a day that would produce a blow-out fuchsia sunset sky.
Temple of the Masks glowing in the morning sunrise. This is a favorite sunset point in Tikal.
Which is why I came back spot the next day at sunrise and was suitably rewarded.
Like most photographers, I prefer the early morning or late evening light rays on a interesting subject, with the exception of an iconic silhouette to frame against the sun (For e.g. the Yei Be Chies in Monument Valley or a roaring Khmer lion at Srah Srang in Cambodia.) I am always on the lookout for a west facing subject for a sunrise shot and vice versa.
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I also intended to go back to the top of Temple IV at sunset, but a heavily overcast sky meddled with that plan. Next time, I guess.
Another lesson learned, too late, literally as I write this blog. If I had taken the effort to go back to the top of temple 22 from where I shot sunset a day earlier, I would have caught Temple IV gleaming golden in the sunrise above the canopy of the forest. . One lives and learns. Another one for next time.