Sunrise Semester

Every morning I go through pretty much the same ritual.   After splashing some cold water in my face and pulling on some clothes,  I  head for the kitchen to give Henry Morgan something to eat.  Henry is my Cat.   And every morning, I tell myself, there’s no point to go out to the field to shoot another sunrise.  After all, I must have a bazillion sunrise shots salted away.  What on earth is the point of taking another!  But by the time I’ve fillled Henry’s water bowl,    I’ve decided I just can’t afford to miss it.  Jacket on, Camera around my neck,   I head out.   I usually start the quarter mile trek to the fields maybe 15 minutes before sunrise.  That gives me maybe five minutes to get in position for the big show.


There’s have been a few times I’ve regretted it but I suspect I could count those on one hand.  And mind you, I’ve been shooting sunrises for years.   Sure, quite a few lack a lot of drama.  That’s usually the case when the sky is crystal clear.  No clouds translates into a rather bland sunrise.  But even on those days, the predawn light is worth a picture or two.

But let me tell you…..when there are a few clouds or a front is moving in off the ocean, the results can be, well….breathtaking.


Lots of folks have asked about camera settings.  I shoot in Manual mode and in the predawn hours I always start out  at f3.5, 1/60th of a second with an exposure compensation of  minus one or 1.3.   I suppose it varies, but for me anyway,  1/60th is my limit for hand held shots with a VR (Vibration Reduction)  Lens.   Below that, I have to go to the tripod.  I have  a SLIK Pro DX 500.  Solid as a Rock.   Couple of other things,  Very seldom do I ever mess with the ISO and I almost always leave metering on Spot Metering.    Never meter the sun or the brightest part of the dawn.  Experiment around the sky and tweak your settings until you get the light you want.  That’s the beauty of digital photography.  No film to waste.    I seldom use filters but every once in a while, particularly in the summer months,  I’ll use a polarizer.  More often, a graduated Neutral Density filter so as to balance out the sky with the foreground when the foreground matters to me.  Often it doesn‘t.

I’ve gotten emails from visitors to my flickr site wanting to know how much I jack up the saturation in my sunrise shots?   All of my Cameras are Nikons and every one is set on Vivid Color from the get go so if anything, I may de-saturate an image.  I can’t remember ever increasing saturation.    Everything is shot in RAW  and all my shots are converted to tif images in photoshop elements, probably the cheapest, really good platform around for RAW conversion.  And another frequent question,   Do I do HDR?  Answer, Never.   I appreciate a good hdr shot as much as anyone, but its not my thing.

If you never get up before sunrise, do yourself a favor.  Do it one morning and take your camera with you.  it’s a powerful motivator to become an early riser.    See you soon on the next blog, or out in the field. Probably tomorrow morning.

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2 thoughts on “Sunrise Semester

  1. Thank you for the photo tips. I hope to get up early tomorrow and give it a try if it is not rainning……We will see. Your sunrises are amazing…My wide angle lens goes down to f5, so that will have to do for me…but I have never tried the spot metering before…

  2. thanks for these great tips, John. As you know, I am an early riser but we don’t seem to have the spectacular sunrises that you have in NC. It certainly is a wonderful way to start the day. Thanks for sharing all your beautiful shots with us. I never get tired of seeing them!!!

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