Sunrise And Sunset Magic
A little how-to on tackling early mornings and late nights
It’s 4 o’clock in the morning. Outside it is still pitch black und the world is fast asleep. Not even the birds have begun to perform their daily morning concert. But what’s that? There’s that one crazy person, rubbing their eyes, yawning, after their alarm had just ripped them out of deep, beautiful dreams. „Aah, they probably need to go to work that early,“ one might assume. Or maybe they’re just one of those insane morning people.
Well that person would be me. And even if I am indeed someone who likes to get up in the small hours, 4am isn’t usually the time I’d start a new day. If I had never picked up a camera it would have mostly likely never occurred to me to set my alarm at such an ungodly time – especially not at weekends. But landscape photography motivates me to do a lot of things that the average person would deem completely and utterly mad.
But I am beyond grateful for this motivation that my camera sparks in me – without it I certainly would have missed the odd stunning natural spectacle or two. I would have only seen sunrises on the walk home from a Summer’s party in town only to fall into my bed and sleep through the day. Now I sometimes go to bed extra early so that I can greet the new day along with the sun.
However, the determination to experience every sunrise and sunset does not arise the moment you get your first camera. During my first big trip for example I missed tons of golden-light-moments, simply because for me it was enough to take photos in the broadest of daylights. The results are fairly ok and bring back heaps of amazing memories (which in the end is what really counts), but they lack depth and that special atmosphere.
It took me a while to understand that it takes more than just the best lens and camera to create images that stand out. What it truly takes is a great amount of discipline, ambition and the ability to take your alarm seriously.
But let’s start with sunsets, shall we, because as a rule they are a wee bit easier to deal with. The only obstacles we need to jump over are a: a rumbling stomach and b: the willingness to hike back in the dark (f.e. if you decided to say good night to the sun from a higher vantage point). Fortunately these are rather small obstacles. Here’s what I do: to not put my stomach through too much discomfort I always bring a few snacks to bridge the time until I’m able to have a proper dinner and if I have to hike or walk back in the dark I put on my headlamp. That one’s crucial, especially if the track leads you over rock and root. As long as it’s still light outside you should also have your way back figured out because you don’t want to get lost after dusk (and stumble, and tear your ligament). Now you only need to withstand the sensation of hunger but if the sunset was terrific those endorphins should be able to work against that growling tummy for a wee while.
Because sunset moments are always better when shared with other people go and grab your best hiking buddy! That way you can reminisce together on that one special sunset plus it’s always smarter to waddle through the dark in groups, just in case something does go South.
The same is true for sunrises of course but those little buggers bring a whole new set of challenges with them.
Us humans, we’re no owls or bats (obviously). When it gets dark we crawl into our beds and wait for daylight to wake us up again in the morning. So the biggest difficulty one must master to go on a hunt for sunrises is to conquer what we Germans call „den inneren Schweinehund“: the voice inside you that tells you to close your eyes again, pull your warm and comfy blankets over your head and keep on sleeping. NO! If the alarm goes off don’t ignore it! Immediately think about the little mission you’re about to embark on, let it fill you with anticipation. And yes, I know. Outside your bed it’s cold and miserable and you’re probably hungry, too and you will ask yourself a million times why you’re putting yourself through this. 4am – that’s no time to happily jump around. But it’s worth it every. single. time. And hey, let me fill you in on a not-so-secret secret: during Autumn and Winter you’re lucky because during the colder months the sun takes her time to show her yellow face and you can sleep a little while longer.
On the night before your mission you should already have worked out an idea about where you want to go. Do you have to drive for a bit? Do you even have to climb a mountain? Seasons, weather forecasts and distances definitely matter when it comes to your sunrise adventure as well, because depending on those conditions you have to set your alarm accordingly. Even half an hour earlier or later will make a huge difference. Sunrises, as beautiful as they are, only last for a very short time. Your best bet is to allow for a generous buffer and if you get to your destination far too early that’s alright, too because blue hour is just as magical.
If you’re taking your whole photography equipment with you, you should assemble all the stuff you need the night before as well. Are your batteries charged? Do you need a tripod? Are your SD cards ready for the operation? Which lenses do you want to bring? The two lenses that I always take with me for sunrise (and sunset as well) are my Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 DG HSM Art and my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 DG OS HSM Sports. They allow me to capture everything – from wide angle to minimalist detail. What is more, the continuous aperture of 2.8 allows me to focus on certain spots in my photo, creating a lovely bokeh. And the quality is simply mind-blowing, even when the lens is exposed to direct sunlight.
Also make sure you prepare your breakfast. Mornings tend to be fresher so you will be cold and you really don’t want to add an empty stomach to an already challenging situation. So eat something or take a sandwich with you, wrap yourself up in warm clothes, don’t forget your camera and you’re ready to go. By the way, if you’re far too tired let reason prevail and stay in bed, even if the conditions look promising. Driving or hiking when your eyelids are heavy and your mind is still hugging your pillows is never a smart idea! But if you’re awake and itching to go, go!
The car ride might go on forever, the hike through a cool, damp dawn might seem endless, while you question your sanity and longingly think of your comfy bed, but as soon as the sun sends her first rays to warm your skin and dips the landscape around you into golden light, you know that it was all worth it.
Even if you don’t capture the moment with a camera but simply absorb it with your own two eyes, it will be imprinted on your memory forever. That’s what sunrises and sunsets do. The magic that comes with the tranquility of the first and last light of the day has a way of staying with you.
And to top it all off, they happen every day! And they are completely free for you to enjoy! So if you haven’t postponed your dinner in a while or rolled out of bed in the wee hours, it’s about time you did! Such moments are far too precious to miss them all the time! And it doesn’t matter where you watch this play of light and colour – be it by the sea, in the forest or in the mountains. The warmth of the sun and its golden light are equally beautiful everywhere!