Beam Me Up, Scotty!


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.

Path of Light


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.

Rain of Fire


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.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.