Dramatic sunbeams like those in the photographs you see here, occur only under certain conditions. Sunbeams appear when sunlight passes through – and is scattered by – particles in the air. In order to effectively photograph sunbeams, we need to capture them against a dark background… like heavy storm clouds. The difference between dark and light makes the sunbeams stand out.
In this shot from Glacier National Park, the sunlight scattered as it passed through particles of water vapor in the air. The dark valley provided an excellent backdrop, allowing the sunbeams to stand out. Heavy, humid air is a perfect medium for sunbeams – and because it was late in the day, the light took on a golden tone.
This photograph was taken in Arizona’s spectacular Antelope Canyon. The air is very dry here in the desert, so these is little moisture to create water vapor in the air. However, the floor of the canyon is covered with fine sand. We tossed handfuls of the sand into the air, and photographed the resulting sunbeams against the dark walls of the slot canyon.