Photo Breakdown: Palisade Head Sunrise

Hello and welcome to the Photo Breakdown! A new series I’m starting where I analyze one of my photos and talk about what I used to get the shot and my headspace for it! To kick things off, we will start with my image Palisade Head Sunrise. Let’s start with some basic information.

Location: Palisade Head, Minnesota

Equipment used:

  • Canon 5D Mk III

  • Canon 24-105L Lens

  • Hoya Polarizing Filter

  • MeFOTO RoadTrip Tripod

  • Wired Shutter Release Cable

So cliffs like these can be tricky to find a good composition because you’re at the whim of the cliff face itself and it can bring a lot of restrictions for composition. That limitation can be frustrating and because of that, I have seen some people do some very dumb things on the edges of cliffs. So please, please I ask you to be smart, no photo or video is worth risking your life over.


This was my last day in Minnesota’s north shore and to reach this I had to do a short uphill hike while it was still dark because it’s always a good idea to get somewhere early to help account for any unforeseen problems. I wanted a good buffer before the sunrise, more on why later. Luckily I came here the day before to scout the area so I knew where I wanted to setup. When possible, plan ahead to help mitigate any potential issues especially for sunrises so you can get more sleep! When I got there I had to go right to the edge of the cliff and safety tuck myself into a large crack in the rock (I actually scooted a little because I’m always nervous around cliffs). Now I setup my tripod and camera on a sturdy spot, double checked to make sure everything was tightened and turned my polarizing filter to cut out glare. I always had a hand in front of the tripod, but not touching it, incase a wind gust knocked it loose. Safety first!

Now when it came to setting up the composition of this shot there were three things I was focusing on.


The first was to capture the rocks for the few minutes that they had a red cast. This happens when the sun breaks the horizon and shines its first light on the cliff face. it only lasts for a couple of minutes though, so be ready beforehand. Hence why I wanted to be setup beforehand.

The second thing is that there were no clouds in the sky. This usually leads to a less expansive sunrise and that was the case here. so I chose to lower the camera and cut off most of the sky where the sunrise colors end, at the top of the trees. If I had leveled it out then it would be just a lot of blue dead space.

The third thing is the snow and rocks on the ground. The same light that turned the rocks red is turning the snow purple and I chose to focus the shot on this more so than the cloudless sky.


Now, things I would do differently. The compositions feels just a little too tight for me. To fix this I would have panned the camera to the right and show more of the water. I also would have liked to have included just a touch more of the sky to give those trees at the top a little more breathing room.


It’s always good for an artist to review their own work, the good and the bad. Hopefully you found it at least interesting! If you did, let me know by leaving a comment and tell me about any other images you would like me to breakdown.