It can be so difficult at times. I'll be fast asleep, snuggled up under the blankets, nice and warm, dreaming away, when suddenly, my alarm shatters the still and rips me from my slumber. I reach over and grab my phone. I open the weather apps I use, and determine that the conditions are still favorable. I check multiple apps to garner a consensus before I crawl out from under the covers and get dressed. My equipment has already been packed and made ready. My clothes are in my office so I can dress without waking my wife. The time is just after 3am. Ouch.
The Magic of Sunrises
Sometimes I think that's the hardest part of being a landscape photographer. Getting up before the sun so I can go photograph it. Like all jobs, there's a lot of drudgery at times. Things like uploading your work to multiple websites, each with its own format that needs to be adhered to. Sizing and uploading new work to my copyright attorney so the images can be registered with the US Copyright office. Resizing and sending work to my licensing agent, who will hopefully find companies interested in licensing my work on their products. Then there's things like emailing clients while working on projects, putting together the classes and workshops, and of course, the marketing I do to try and sell my work and fill up my classes and workshops. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but the thing I love most is creating the images that make the rest of the list necessary. But back to the hardest thing. I find it can be EXTREMELY difficult to pull myself from a deep sleep to go photograph.
The truth is, I love watching the sun rise. I love photographing at that time of day. The air is still (usually), the light has this soft, warm quality to it that it doesn't have at other times. And there's something zen-like about watching the world reveal itself as the light comes up and illuminates things. The photos I make don't even need to have the sun IN the shot. It's just that the quality of light is so perfect.
Even on days like this morning (April 18, 2023), when things don't work out, I still don't regret getting out of bed so early. I say this often to people who ask me why I get up so early: "I've never regretted getting up to photograph sunrise, even when it turns out not to be a good one. I've often regretted staying in bed to catch a little more sleep." Of course, it's better when the weather cooperates, but I don't always mind if it doesn't. Today, while the forecast called for skies to begin clearing around 4:30am, and partly cloudy by sunrise at 5:50am, neither of those happened. A fog rolled in, and the morning was gray and raw. I tried to make the best of it, but I'm really not liking what I took this morning. But it was still a nice hike to get to my spot, and I enjoy the time I'm outside.
It's easier to get out of bed at that painfully early hour when I'm traveling than it is when I'm home. When I'm home, I can rationalize that I'll go to the location I've selected another time, that it will still be there, that I only live a short drive away. When I'm traveling, and it's a place I can't get to easily, I feel more urgency to make sure I can get out for sunrise to catch that light. Being on the road makes me anxious to be out to see and photograph the places I came to see and photograph!
The hardest sunrises are the ones I have to hike to a location for, because it means I have to allow for the hike as well. For instance, this morning, sunrise was at 5:50am in the location I planned to photograph. But, it was a mile hike from the car to the spot. In the pitch darkness. If this had been a spot that I could drive up, get out, and walk a little, I could have gotten up at 4am instead of 3am, and been set up and ready to go soon after arriving at around 5am.
Then there's sunrises like "Frozen Dream", above. This one was also just over a mile hike, and as far as sunrises go, this one, at 7:23am, wasn't so bad. But it was winter, with temperatures in the teens. Fresh snow on the ground, and a mile and a half hike up into the Rocky Mountains to Dream Lake, bundled up, in snow shoes. We allowed enough time that it was still dark when we reached the lake, and we watched the light slowly come up on the peaks above the lake. The sun was rising behind us, but we knew the show was going to be the alpenglow on those peaks. It was well worth it, but more than a few people have questioned my sanity.
Some sunrises have been especially meaningful, indelibly etched in my brain, never to leave me. One such sunrise was the one above, "Sentinel Dawn". This was taken in 2015, and was the result of some very serendipitous coincidences. I was in the Bay Area, running photography events for Lytro, a company with a photo technology that was cutting edge at the time. However, the company had decided the photo industry wasn't for them. I was losing my job and I knew it, and was scrambling to find something else.
It was this chain of events that eventually led me to move to Maine. But at the time, I hadn't yet come to that point, and was feeling rudderless and lost. One of my events had been cancelled a few days before and I suddenly found myself with a few free days. I knew Yosemite was just a few hours away, so I quickly found a hotel nearby and beelined it for Yosemite Valley. On my way there, I found out that Glacier Point Road would be opening the next morning. Perfect! I headed up Glacier Point Road and decided to hike up to Sentinel Dome to watch sunrise there. It was about a mile from the parking area, and I made it in plenty of time to catch those brilliant orange clouds as they lit up behind the pine at the summit of the dome. I spent three hours there, all alone, the sounds of Vernal, Nevada, and Yosemite Falls creating a soft background hum to accompany the birds' songs. It helped center me a bit as I began to try and plan my next steps.
Being on Maine's coast, it's much easier to find sunrise locations than it is sunset locations. There are a few sunset spots, where a peninsula takes a fortuitous turn toward the west, like at Lookout Point. But those spots are few and far between, meaning if I want that angular light, I have to get up early for it. The same is true for much of the east coast, if you want to photograph the ocean with that glorious light, it normally has to be at sunrise. Because of that, I have to say I do enjoy those west coast trips, like to the Oregon Coast, for instance, where the best light over the water is at sunset, allowing me a little sleep.
It's not easy getting out of bed so early in the morning. But I've always found it worthwhile when I do. The images in this entry are some of my favorite early morning sunrise images. Coming back with good images always makes it enjoyable.