The Perfect Sunrise
You’ve perhaps heard of the secret to good photojournalism—“f/8 and be there!” Well, the secret of good landscape photography is not much different—“f/22 and be there!” Probably the most important ingredient in a landscape photo is light. So be there when the light is right. For me that begins about 20 minutes before the sun comes up. In the summer that means getting up at 4:00 AM or earlier, driving 20 miles to Orlando Wetlands Park, and walking about a mile to my favorite sunrise spot.
That brings up another ingredient—frequency. I took a tip from Ansel Adams many years ago. Have a favorite spot that you can call your own and be there often. If you have a favorite spot, don’t let the sun come up before you get there. The sun comes up every morning—so you really can’t call a great landscape “a lucky shot.” While good landscapes can be made at other times of day, the sunrise and sunset times of day give us the warm oblique light that enhances most subjects—whether or not the sun itself is in the picture.
There are two reasons why I like sunrises better that sunsets. First, you have the solitude of a beautiful environment. No one else is crazy enough to get up at that hour, and this all belongs to you and the wildlife that you share it with. The other reason is—you don’t have to go home in the dark!
Years ago I would carry a heavy 4×5 view camera and at least 20 sheets of Velvia-50 film, a heavy tripod, a camera bag/backpack, and lunch. Life is easier now. I still carry a large tripod—but it is carbon-fiber and a lot lighter. My digital camera equipment is a fraction of the weight of the view camera equipment. Lunch weighs about the same.
Each semester, I bring my nature photography classes on 2 field trips to either Orlando Wetlands or Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I get some grumbling when they hear of the arrival hour, but the grumbling goes away when the sun comes up. One woman, who had just turned 40, told me she had never gotten up that early in her life. She showed up. She announced to the class of about 7 people that this was the first time in her life she saw a sunrise. I had a new convert.