Dawn Photography by Roger Styles
I cannot claim to be a dedicated dawn photographer. It has always been by chance that I have been up and about at the sunrise hour. Take, for example, while staying in a holiday cottage just a stone’s throw from a Hadrian’s Wall it was a whine from our dog that told me he needed to go out. Hence, outside in my dressing gown at around 5 am, I saw a clear starry sky and mist across the nearby fields. That’s interesting, I thought. So, our dog’s need having been satisfied, I dressed, picked up tripod, camera and lens, donned wellies, and set off to cover the few hundred yards to Hadrian’s Wall. For the next hour and a half, I watched and clicked away as the scene in front of me changed by the minute. It was very special to watch this natural miracle unfold and to be the only person on the hillside witnessing the unique sequence of changing light which would never be repeated. I learned a lot from this experience in terms of trying to control highlights and so on, but I also learned it is essential to have a very good head torch because, as daylight unfolded, I realised that not only had I entered a field of cows, but I was also standing in a large cow pat!
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Hadrian’s Wall Dawn © Roger Styles
Hadrian’s Wall Dawn © Roger Styles
Of course, it is often the changing colour in a dawn sky that catches our attention, and it was that which caused me to be standing on a sloping shingle beach on Kintyre, looking out past the tip of the Isle of Arran to the isolated dome of Ailsa Craig as the sun rose off to my left. This would require a panoramic shot, but my repeated attempts to get the tripod sufficiently stable and level on the sloping shingle were failing as the sky became lighter by the second. There was no alternative. It was going to have to be a handheld panorama of several portrait-format shots. Although fewer landscape-format shots would have been needed to cover the vista, when merged these would have resulted in an unacceptably narrow letterbox image. So, setting exposure manually at the brightest area of the view and using manual focus set at the central distant point I worked steadily left to right across the scene, overlapping each shot by about a third while using the horizon and the handy green horizontal line in the camera viewfinder as a guide. However, in spite of trying not to inadvertently alter any of the camera settings I might, I suspect, have slightly nudged the zoom ring, because after merging the 8 images in Lightroom, and inspecting the resulting panoramic image closely, I could see a tiny step on the right-hand section of the horizon. The fault may not be noticeable in this article and to be honest it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the result, but rather it is another valuable learning experience.
The next example is a simple 7 am shot of sunrise over trees in Norfolk late one September. It might be what a camera club judge would call “just a grab shot”, but it is nevertheless one of my dawn favourites.
Decisive Moment at Sycamotre Gap © Roger Styles
I said at the start that I am not a dedicated dawn photographer, but the experience has always been enjoyable and has sometimes resulted in a pleasing image. My learning points so far are, to know my camera so well that I can operate it in near darkness, visit a promising location in the daytime first, practise taking a panoramic image in any location to perfect the technique, and have a good head torch to avoid cow pats! I should add that using the many weather, sunrise/sunset apps, and also tide tables is advisable, but I will most likely continue to be a “by chance” dawn photographer thanks to our dog who is shown with my wife in the final image, taken at a decisive moment early one January morning at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall.
All Images © Roger Styles