How are you all doing? I hope today is a good day for you and yours.
I have a huge passion for shooting sunrise. For many, many years it was shooting cities at dawn, wandering around empty summer streets in the dark and finding the perfect place to capture the sunrise.
Then when I started to do more travelling I found that I also love to shoot landscapes and scenics at dawn.
For me witnessing dawn is such a rejuvenating experience.
Dawn can be wondrous at any time of the year, but spring, summer and early autumn are my favourites. The transience of the light makes dawn special.
And you know that within an hour or two it will be gone, and the feeling of life returning to normal will have invaded the landscape, or at least you are aware that the proper day has started.
Today, I would love to invite you to capture the world you live in at sunrise. No matter where you are, I would love to see your world at daybreak.
If you send them to me, I will pick my favourite photos and do a special post about them next week so you can see them too! I’ll tell you what I liked about the photos and will put in a link to your social media/website if you like…
A stormy Bosphorus, the light of dawn seeping through wintry clouds.
Now for a few reasons why I think you should shoot at dawn.
Dawn connects us to the contraction of life – our finite existence – but the feeling too that life is endless:
First, I’d like to share a pretty long quote from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I included this in one of my books because it’s so evocative of a feeling I often get when I witness the sun rise:
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun–which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.
One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries.
Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone’s eyes.” Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Jason Silva talks about how sunrises and sunsets give us the only opportunity to see the passing of time, the passing of the moment, and thus force us to be more present to this temporary existence of time that we live in. And that is why it feels so powerful to witness a sunrise or sunset. He explains his ideas in this great 2 minute video.
Sunrise breaks the habit of how you see your environment
Monet believed that most people are blind to their environment. They don’t notice what lies before them, so habitually are we locked into the habit of our minds. But he believed that the light of dawn and sunset actually coloured reality, making it easier for people to see the wonder of the world around them. And that was why he spent so much time painting in the twilight hours. So if Monet believed in the power of dawn, then so can you 🙂
This sunburst is pure joy, right!
Capturing the changing colours and light of sunrise
The whole spectrum of lights and colours that we can see at dawn is pretty breathtaking. The colours can go from deep blue to purples, oranges, yellows and more. To be really present with these colours – and every day they are usually different – is such a privilege as a photographer.
It’s a precise practice to follow the degrees of light and colour change.
Try to capture these changes, be present for them.
“Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth. And more than anything it can spur you to action. Have a burning day.” Vera Nazarian
The tech part of capturing sunrise
Every photo that I have taken for my dawn books, before sunrise, was exposed at -1.5 stops. As the sun rises this exposure gets closer to 0 as the light increases. Why, you may ask? Well, I will give you a quick lesson on the camera meter. The camera meter is an averaging system. It looks at all the tones in an image frame and averages it all to a middle grey. From now on and forever think of the 0 exposure as a bland middle grey.
For example, say you had a black wall that filled your frame. If you were to expose that wall at the meter’s 0 setting – like the image below – your black wall image would not be black but middle grey. Same for a white wall. If you made the exposure at the 0 setting your white wall image would come out middle grey. You would have two photos looking exactly the same. Your meter is telling you that the black wall is way too dark and the white wall is way too bright, so here is the proper exposure. Stupid thing doesn’t know anything. You have to know and interpret the information.
The correct exposure for the black wall is at -2 stops (darker) and for the white wall +2 stops (brighter). Dawn being darker than a middle grey needs to be underexposed to retain the deep shadows and rich colours that are inherent for that specific time. NOTE: This is something about auto-modes that people need to understand. If you are on an auto-mode (shutter or aperture priority, etc) your base exposure will ALWAYS be on the 0 exposure, unless you move it with exposure compensation.
Just remember, if your tones are predominantly dark your exposure will most likely need to be darker. Inversely, if your tones are mostly bright, or at least brighter than middle grey, your exposure will need to be brighter. Counterintuitive, yes? Essential, absolutely!
For most shooting situations that 0 exposure is going to work fine. But not for dawn!
- Plus you’ll want to bring your tripod.
- And if you want to plan where the sun will rise, which I often like to do, use PhotoPills app. Here is my interview about the app.
You don’t need to just capture the traditional ‘sunrise shot’
Here are some shots at sunrise that are using the beauty of the light in a different way:
I love the glow of light coming through these broken windows of a roofless, derelict house:
From the bedroom window of our old house in London. Such a London wintry experience.
Dawn light streaming through this tunnel. The light of dawn can bring beauty to everything!
There are always people out working at dawn. Here in Venice on the boats.
I hope that has given you some ideas to play with in your photography.
I’d love to see your photos of sunrise. Send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll pick my favourites for a ‘reader special’ email next week.
Can’t wait to see your shots.
And remember, if you want to join me in Lisbon in summer 2022, the spaces are going fast.
Have an awesome day,
Anthony and Diana