a beautiful sun beam pierces through antelope canyon

Photo Challenge Winner – Capturing Exceptional Light

You all are making this very challenging for ME—so many exceptional entries!  What I particularly like is the variety of scenes you’ve submitted.  We’ve got some amazing astrophotography, incredible sunsets, jaw-dropping desert scenes, and electrifying landscapes (complete with lightning striking!)—the full spectrum!

But as with all challenges, there can be only one victor, and for this Exceptional Light Challenge I’ve chosen Lori Eckhart’s Catching a Sun Beam.  This extraordinary capture is of a truly otherworldly place—Antelope Canyon in Arizona.

As Lori states, “You have to be there around high noon, so the sun is straight overhead, coming through the crevice of the canyon. It’s a dusty process, but someone shovels dust into the air, visualizing the rays.”  Not only is this simply a sensational photo, but it showcases mastery of the arts, too.

a beautiful sun beam pierces through antelope canyon

Catching a Sun Beam, by Lori Eckhart. f/13, 1 second, ISO 200

The settings here are of particular note, and we’ll get to that in a second, but let’s start off with the composition.


When you overlay the rule-of-thirds grid to the photo, you can see immediately how it’s broken into three logical segments, going left to right.  And that particular sun beam is crashing through right smack in the middle of the photo.  One could interpret this as being against the laws of normal composition, which would suggest to offset the main subject, in this case being the light.  However I’ll argue that this is indeed the most effective way of composing this photo because a) the light is very justifiable as a segment of the rule-of-thirds, and b) with the strong symbolism of light dividing the darkness, it helps in an artistic way to have it overtly in the dead middle of the scene.

The light divides the darkness…SUCH a cool photo!

a rule of thirds grid is over Lori's photo, showing the compositional elements

Camera Settings

The camera settings here are spot on.  Recall that Lori said that the dust in the air is what created this nice light beam.  One thing that is key in this scenario is that you ought to take a long exposure to allow for the swirling dust to be captured uniformly. That is, while you could likely shoot hand held at 1/60th of a second or faster, setting your camera on a tripod for a long exposure of ½ second or slower allows that stellar light beam to appear more pronounced.  In this case, Lori was able to achieve a 1 second exposure with f/13, which gives the photo excellent depth of field, while also shooting at the low ISO of 200.  A wonderful combo!


When setting out to capture exceptional light, you must keep in mind that light will be your subject.  In the case of Lori’s amazing photo, it’s where the light was that made it so spectacular.  The light beam itself was unique, but not a dazzling subject.  Instead it was how that light appeared and fit in with wildly intriguing surroundings.

Mix that with the angles and spectacular reflection on the slot canyon walls, and you have absolute magic.  What a capture!  I particularly love photographing in the Canyons of the Southwest U.S. because of this mix of color, angle, and saturation of light.

There are other ways to photograph light no doubt, and I wanted to showcase a couple other entries, as they serve as excellent examples of other ways to capture exceptional light.

amazing orange and yellow mammatus clouds form over a prairie

First up we’ve got an intriguing photo submitted by Jatinder Singh (presented without title). What I love about this is that it’s actually a fairly ordinary scene…in fact, you could say that the grassy field with distant, slightly obtrusive power lines, is really not that interesting.  HOWEVER, the photo is WONDERFUL because Jatinder captured extraordinary light as the subject.  The field was just a vehicle over which those amazing mammatus clouds, with orange, blue, and violet hues could be showcased.  I often tout to my photo trips that when you capture exceptional light, you can photograph anything and it will turn out as captivating.  Case and point.  Great photo, Jatinder!!

Finally, I wanted to call your attention to a wonderfully unique photo from Jayson Craig, where the light is not the subject at all, but rather a interesting background to a fantastic travel photo.  What a splendid way to “put yourself here!” It is not easy to shoot into the sunset like this and retain enough light and data on the foreground subjects.  Of course there is likely a bit of post processing here, but it’s a necessity and it works VERY well!  It certainly makes ME want to rejoice just like these folks for seeing such a beautiful travel photo!

four friends show exuberance as the sun sets in the distance

Once again, big congrats to our winner, Lori Eckhart, with that brilliant photo of the Antelope slot canyon.  A magnificent way to capture and showcase exceptional light!

I look forward to our next challenge!

All the best,

Court Whelan Signature