I had a plan. Well, sort of. I knew I was going to get up early for a sunrise but I had no idea where, or what, I was going to shoot. All I knew for certain is that Sunrise was at 6.53am and I'd be standing in water for at least an hour.
I like to get to my locations about an hour beforehand as this gives me plenty of time to find my way in the dark, get everything setup on the tripod, and then scout around to find different photographic opportunities.
On this occasion I decided to give myself a little extra time just in case I couldn't find any compositions and needed to rush off to another location. Of course, I needed to first work out what direction I was going to travel.
Where to shoot?
My first choice was a location near my home in Salamander Bay and my 'Plan B' would be one of the beaches within a 10-20 minute drive. My preferred location can be walked over at low tide but based on the tides I had a feeling the water would be coming in around my feet well before I started taking any photographs. Fortunately, the local fishing shop was still open so I rushed out and bought a pair of waders.
With everything packed and ready-to-go I went to bed early. I had set the alarm for 5.00am but for some strange reason I awoke at 4.20am. Oh well, time to get out of bed and make a coffee.
My first location of choice is only a few minutes down the road so, sadly, I turned up at 4.45am - some two hours before sunrise. Not only is it pitch black but it's freezing cold. I grabbed my headlamp and went for a stroll. I cannot see a thing. I have no idea what I am going to shoot.
To be honest, I wasn't very hopeful of finding any good compositions but considering I didn't have any concrete plans at any other location I decided to just stay where I was and wait. I gave myself the challenge of working with whatever presented itself.
With that decision made I put on my waders, grabbed my gear and headed out onto the sand. I walked as far as the waters' edge (the tide is coming in), put the camera on the tripod, and stared into the darkness.
Amazingly, time passed quite quickly and before I knew it sunlight was beginning to illuminate the sky. I was hoping for some cloud cover to provide interest and colour but it wasn't to be.
I could, at least, finally go for a walk and find something worth shooting. Not too far away I found a tree hidden behind some mangroves that I felt I could potentially silhouette against the sky.
What to shoot?
Rather than messing around with my camera and tripod (in the rising tide) I used my phone to take snapshots of potential compositions.
The images may be noisy but they serve well to help pre-visualize what a final image may look like.
I now have a subject but I now need to find just the right angle and choose a moment in time when there's a perfect balance of light and dark in the sky. Too early, and the tree will not stand out. Too late, and I'll miss the graduated colours that may rise above the horizon.
I personally find my best images are captured within a 15-20 minute window prior to sunrise. This first image was shot at 6.36am with the camera set at ISO 400, 1/6 sec at f/16.
Focusing can be a little tricky in low light so I chose a small aperture to help with potential sharpness issues. The shutter speed was chosen to provide a hint that the tide was still coming in.
By 6.47am, when this next image was shot, I had practically lost the earlier observed graduation of light to dark tones in the sky so I went for a long exposure. This would remove the noticeable movement of water and induce a completely different mood.
This photo was exposed for 40 secs at f/22 using a 6-stop neutral density filter.
For my final photograph I wanted to capture the moment when the sun 'just' appears above the distant trees. Exposure wise, I still wanted a long(ish) exposure to blur the water but there's a few considerations to make when taking images like this.
The two primary concerns is if the timing is off (in terms of starting the exposure too late) or the exposure is too long then there is a risk that more of the sun will enter the frame and throw the exposure off.
This image was shot at 7.00am with the camera set to 6 secs at f/22 using a 6-stop neutral density filter.
The final result
When I looked at the original snapshot on my mobile I knew then that a silhouette was going to be my end target. While the colour images are nice, they don't convey the mood and sense of isolation that I was feeling while standing out in the water.
It's not common practice to create B&W images from sunrise (or sunset) photographs but in this case I feel it works very well. It certainly evokes emotion in me.
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