California Rice in Focus: Sutter Buttes and Sunsets

By Brian Baer

Every day, two things happen that often make great photographs, sunrise and sunset. I have so many photos of sunsets by people of pretty clouds or colors. One thing missing from a lot of these photos is another element in the photo. Rice country has provided me with so many different elements to add to these types of photographs, but none bigger than the Sutter Buttes, the world’s smallest mountain range, located in the heart of the Sacramento Valley. The Sutter Buttes has provided me with numerous sunset and sunrise photos.

moonrise over sutter buttes

Leo LaGrande on his rice farm in Williams CA, Thursday Sept 19, 2013. Photo Brian Baer

The small mountain range is often an element in my photography because it gives a since of place to the photo. You know that the rice field in in the Sacramento Valley and not Asia by looking at it. I tend to gravitate to it for sunset photos but have often been rewarded by using the Buttes as an element in my photography.

Over the years of telling stories in the Sacramento Valley, I have worked tirelessly to make new and different looking photos. Sometimes it is as easy as visiting a spot over different times of the years. It is amazing to me that the same place can look so different. Even just a few hours let alone months can have drastic changes on the scene. Even driving a mile or so down the road can make the scene look different.

geese taking flight from flooded rice field

Rice Fields on Schroeder Rd near Live Oak CA, Thursday, December 5, 2019. Photo Brian Baer

Once I have found a scene I look for other elements to add to the photography like a tractor, flooded fields or even birds. This gives the viewer not only the pretty colors or clouds from the sunset, but a better since of location and even how it feels to be there. I try not duplicate the same photo, but I do often find myself in the same area looking for a new way to photograph it.

One new way is to be patient. I see a lot of people show up to the same scene I am photographing and pull out their cell phone and snap a picture and then leave. Some of my favorite sunset photos are actually after the sun is set. The light changes rapidly and often dramatically.  Waiting can often provide an even better photograph than the sunset.

sunset behind rice silos

Sept 5, 2012. Photo Brian Baer

Sunrises and sunsets look different every time they happen and my photographs are no different. By adding different elements to photograph, I can change the look of scene before me. If looking at a photo makes you feel like you were there than I call that a photograph a success.

Brian Baer is an award-winning photojournalist with more than 30-years experience photographing news and human events around the globe. Find out more at:

Brian Baer