What is the “sunny day rule”? It is a photography thing, a way to meter for correct camera exposure without using a light meter. With today’s cameras’ ability to automatically meter, this rule is not often used by photographers. This is the sunny day rule I am familiar with, that is, until I met Sunny. She has her own set of Sunny Day Rules.

Most landscape photographers do not like to photograph on sunny days. We like the sky to have some drama. The best way to introduce drama into the sky is to have interestingly shaped or colorful clouds. Thus, a nice sunny day does not usually produce the best landscape photos. However, a day with Sunny does.

Sunny Rule 1: Hike Until You Drop

We should have read the fine print. In Sunny’s initial email to us, she comments, “this is a hiking-intensive location: 7-8 miles roundtrip if you want to see all of the good stuff; I’ll sherpa gear!” That means 7-8 miles hiking in the afternoon to scout the location, then ANOTHER 7-8 miles roundtrip for a star and sunrise shoots. Doing the math, we would have to hike 14-16 miles over two hikes within 12 hours. Ouch.

Later in the same email she wrote, “our itinerary is jam-packed and should wear you out pretty good, if I do my job!” Somehow, I had the misconception that we would drive right up to the photo location. Maybe this entire trip is my fault. I told Sunny we wanted to photograph really cool rock formations that very few photographers have experienced. She must have taken this to mean, let’s hike to remote areas of the wilderness. What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!*

Just as we were about to set out on this camping/hiking journey, Sunny gave us some great news. One of the four-wheel drive service roads just opened. Our hiking would be less than half! And she still carried our tripods. It is a Sunny day!

Sunny Rule 2: What Goes Down Must Go Up

The wilderness we are camping in looks flat and desolate, no interesting rock formations to be seen. Where are they, I asked ever so innocently? It’s about a mile hike, then down into a chasm. Yikes. We scrambled down and around a cliff face, a sure drop to my death if I slipped even a little, then I came face to face with a hoodoo. This is not your everyday hoodoo, but one with such a skinny waist that it might topple in a stiff breeze.

Look at the waist of this hoodoo – it’s so tiny.

The sun is just peeking over the canyon wall, illuminating the hoodoos. I still can’t get over how thin the hoodoo’s waist is for the one on the left.

Our guide extraordinaire taking a break on a cliff face. Is that a grin I see on her face? She must be thinking of new ways to torment me.

Usually, I prefer to hike up rather than down. Hiking down hurts my knees. I also have less balance, making any sort of slip potentially dangerous.

To get out of this chasm we had to hike up, easier than the down route. That is, until we get to the last big push up. All of a sudden, I was face to face with a 5-foot-high rock face. How do I scale this? Rachel, our daughter and avid rock climber, would find it super easy. Me? Not so much. Sunny says just jump up and land on your stomach – a whale flop she called it. I must have taken my stupid pill – I jumped and flopped. I got about half my body up, half the body dangling over the rock face. I start to slip. Sunny says, just grab my hand. I reach out, touch her fingertips with mine, and continue my gradual slide down. I hit the bottom, scrapes on my shin, elbow, and other places. I am not too bruised, other than my ego. Kathryn went a different way and easily walked up. Did she and Sunny conspire to watch me flop? They said no, of course.

Sunny Rule 3: Sleeping is Highly Overrated

Camping with Sunny is great. She sets up the entire camp, tent, kitchen, etc. In our tent are sleeping bags on a thick pad. She even provides us pillows. It is as close to glamping as you can get in the Utah wilderness. Her dinners are delicious, seasoned steak grilled to perfection, sauteed mushrooms, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Cheese and chocolate for dessert. After a day of hiking and eating a big meal, it is time for sleep.

What seems like minutes, Sunny is calling us to do a star shoot. Somehow, we manage. We get back to our tent while it is still dark and fall asleep. Then just a few moments later, Sunny is calling us for a sunrise shoot. This time she delivers coffee to us. There is not much sleep on our camping trip. But there is much fun and the coffee is percolated to cowboy perfection.

I took a snooze when I could. [photo by Kathryn]

Sunny Rule 4: The Pain is Worth the Gain

It’s now late afternoon and time to visit another chasm. As we hike down toward the bottom, the beauty of this place is undeniable. Parts of this area look otherworldly, photo opportunities abound (we will write about this soon). We head to the main attraction, a beautiful hoodoo.

Just after sunset, this hoodoo looks its best.

Landscape version of the hoodoo. It was a beautiful scene.

We wrap up our shoot, hiking back for dinner. All we could think is we are tired and achy, but the pain is definitely worth the gain. The photography has been great.

Final Thought

Hiking, camping and photography with Sunny was a great experience, one we will readily do again. I say this despite the lack of sleep and my many bruises. Our final thought as we drove out of the wilderness was we survived the Sunny Day Rules.


Sunny Stroeer is professional endurance athlete who is co-owner of Dreamland Safari Tours (Dreamland Safari Tours). They are based out of Kanab, UT and do single or multiple day tours mostly in Southern Utah. Kathryn and I highly recommend them for any adventure you might like, from mild to super-aggressive!

* Quote from Cool Hand Luke, 1967, starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy.