Perhaps the most common exhortation in the world of photography is to capture the warm light and long shadows prevalent at dusk and dawn. So much has been written about the glorious images captured during these two magical moments that one can’t help being infected with a curious enthusiasm for waking up long before the newspaper is delivered and sweating out to some scenic locale just to take a few photographs. In the last thirty years, I’ve only witnessed a handful of sunrises; so, I resolved to turn over a new leaf and become a dawn photographer.
It’s a bit harder to capture the sunrise than I anticipated. Because I’m still trying to determine which legs I like best, I had to arrange to borrow a tripod. After preparing my digital film, packing my bag and charging my batteries, I was all set to go. All I had to do was get out of bed when the alarm sounded at 5 O'clock. After two false starts, I was on my way.
I’d selected Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island for my first sunrise expedition. Practicality factored heavily into the decision: the forecast indicated rain all weekend; so, my only chance was to catch the sun before the rain arrived with the weekend. Therefore, any location had to be nearby so I wouldn’t miss a full day of work. Eagle Harbor is accessible via ferry from downtown Seattle where I live, and is one of my favourite summer-time destinations because quaint little buildings line the waterfront and bobbing sail boats fill the harbour. How could I go wrong with such a scenic location?
The first ferry from Seattle leaves at 6:20 am and arrives in Eagle Harbor around 6:55 am. Unfortunately, some joker had scheduled sunrise for 7:20 am. By the time the ferry docked, the sky already had a peach and amber glow; and I was still a half mile or more from the marina where I planned capture the sunrise. The last time I’d visited Eagle Harbor was in June of the last year – a whole nine months ago. I’d admired the harbour and the restful atmosphere; but, I hadn’t spent enough time learning my way around. Now, when every moment meant a missed opportunity, I was eager to get into position and start shooting. The moment I found an acceptable location, I dashed out onto the dock, set up my tripod and started shooting. Possessed of an urge to shoot, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was shooting. I just shot.
The sun soon climbed high enough that I could no longer take pictures facing east. I decided to wander around a bit; perhaps I’d run across something that would catch my attention. Almost immediately I stumbled upon the wonderful, sensuous line of the waterfront boardwalk as it curved along the shore. Early morning frost still covered its wooden treads and the whole structure reflected gloriously in the still water below. A few yards along the boardwalk I spied a solitary sailboat anchored in the center of the harbour enjoying its own private dawn. And finally, just as I was running out of film, two elderly row boats napping before their early morning swim.
I learned quite a bit from my early morning escapade. Yes, the quality of dawn light is worth making an effort to capture; but, I had already accepted this as true and had only wanted confirmation. What surprised me most was that in spite of my inadequate planning, I managed to get any decent photographs at all. Not one of the shots taken before I gave up on the sunrise was worth a damn. But all of the photographs after the actual dawn were keepers. Obviously, when planning future trips, I must include an advance visit to the location with an eye focussed on photograph-worthy subject material. Furthermore, it’s obvious that getting in position well before sunrise is also critical to success of an early morning shoot.