The Magic of Sunrises

April 18, 2023

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 sun rises over Saco Bay as calm waters lap at the rocky shoreline.

Still Waters

Still waters fill a pool carved out by the rocky shoreline near Biddeford Pool, while the sky is a canvas painted deep orange with dreams of infinity on a spring morning on the Maine coast.

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 sky begins to glow with soft pastel hues of pink, purple, and orange at dawn at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park.

Zabriskie Point

The sky begins to glow with soft pastel hues of pink, purple, and orange at dawn at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. Shaped over eons by the forces of water, the yellow and brown striped hills form a rugged badlands as the Panamint Mountains rise in the distance.

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.

A battered and weathered lobster buoy rests on the rocks where it washed up as the sun casts its warm orange hues across the morning sky in Lubec, Maine.

Sunrise on Passamaquoddy Bay

A battered and weathered lobster buoy rests on the rocks where it washed up as the sun casts its warm orange hues across the morning sky at Green Point in Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine.

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.

Sunrise in Yosemite National Park viewed from Tunnel View.

Yosemite Valley Dawn

The first light of day glows behind El Capitan, in the early morning haze in Yosemite National Park.

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!

Pine trees on a mountainside as the Sawtooth Mountains stand in the background.

Sawtooth Dawn

The Sawtooth Mountains tower over a stand of pines on a summer morning in Idaho as the sky glows with the first light of the day.

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.

A winter mountain scene at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Frozen Dream

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is a stunning and peaceful winter paradise. As the morning light shimmers off the snow and ice-covered lake surface and the surrounding snow-covered mountains, the air is filled with serenity and tranquility. The scene exudes a dreamy ambience, the pale blue sky dotted with delicate pastel hues. Nature engulfs the lake in its stunning beauty, inviting visitors to become lost in the enchanting atmosphere.

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.

A tree stands atop Sentinel Dome as the sky glows pink at sunrise in Yosemite National Park.

Sentinel Dawn

The sky glows over Sentinel Dome as the sun rises to start a new day in Yosemite National Park.

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.

The sky glows pink and orange just before sunrise at Portland Head lighthouse.

Late Summer Morn at Portland Head

Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine is captured in a beautiful photograph at the break of dawn. Ablaze with hues of pink, red, and orange, the sky above the lighthouse paints the scene with a warm and inviting glow. The lighthouse itself stands tall and proud above Casco Bay, its iconic white tower and red roof standing out against the vibrant sky.

In the foreground, the waters of Casco Bay wash over the cobblestone beach, the long exposure of the photograph causing the waves to appear as soft undulating ribbons that flow over the stones. The interplay between the stillness of the lighthouse and the movement of the water creates a mesmerizing contrast that draws the eye.

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.

A man feeds the seagulls from an Art Deco lifeguard tower on Miami's South Beach at sunrise.

Morning Ritual

A man stands on an art deco lifeguard tower, silhouetted against the stunning oranges and pinks of the sunrise coming over South Beach. He is feeding pieces of bread by hand to a flock of seagulls that seem to float in the air around him, while the glint of the morning light on the small waves rolling in can be seen in the distance. This was one of those special moments that happen when you least expect it. I was photographing the sunrise when this gentleman climbed the stairs to the lifeguard tower and began feeding the seagulls. The birds flocked to him. Silhouetted against the dawn sky, it was a magical instant in time I was glad to be able to capture.

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.

The sun rises behind sand dunes on Bodie Island, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.

OBX Sunrise

Limited Edition

The sun peeks between some clouds just after sunrise on Bodie Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Large format wall art prints available.
Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 prints. A signed Certificate of Authenticity will be provided with each limited edition print purchased.

A stand of cypress trees on Lake Maurepas with soft early morning light in Louisiana.

Cypress Symmetry

Limited Edition

Five cypress trees are standing tall along the shore of Lake Maurepas in Louisiana, their reflection gently rippling in the still waters as the sky is filled with soft pastel colors of pink, orange, and purple just before sunrise. The lake is illuminated in the peach light of the early morning, seemingly frozen in time while the cypress trees stand tall, silhouetted against the pastel sky. It's a peaceful yet powerful moment of serenity, one that refreshes and restores the viewer's spirit. I count myself lucky to have witnessed this scene, as I waded waist-deep in the waters with my camera and tripod to catch the first light on these cypresses in the swamp.

Offered as a limited edition of 100 prints. All Fine Art Limited Edition Prints will receive a signed certificate of authenticity with serial number, mailed separately.