A Dash Of Insanity

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I shot a Sunrise two weeks ago. The picture above is the result of that shoot. But that’s not the point. Read on, and hopefully, have a laugh with me…

I was driving out to my location, a place I hadn’t been for a very, very long time. I had no idea how floods, storms and whatever had changed the land, if any. All I knew is that it was a tight pocket surrounded by hills and with a lake, perfect for fog generation and enough elements to get some great shots. With me was my D800, my brand new baby that I had yet to shoot sunrise with in Queensland.

I was driving down the lonely pitch-black road in the early hours of morning in the late autumn (soon-to-be-winter) after consuming a beverage designed to wake me up, I was slowly feeling the rush of alterness hitting me when I had an idea. This idea struck me because I woke up, I realised that it had been pretty much two years since I had done something like this -get up, layer on clothes, get into my little silver car and drive into the darkness armed with camera equipment in search of a moment.

And then it got me thinking.

What does it take to be a successful at shooting Sunrise? (I’m not implying that I’m successful, but let’s pretend I am)

No really, what does it actually take?

Let’s state the obvious.

  • A camera (duh… unless painting or sketching is your thing) Helps if you have your batteries and memory cards in it too.
  • Camera Accessories (helps you take the shot to begin with)
  • An eye for composition in the dark or only lit by a torch
  • A game plan, a place to be, a where and a when
  • A car (because unless you live outside of Australia, you’re definitely not getting a bus or train before Sunrise}
  • A bevvy of technological advances to make you lazier but more informed. Weather maps, software programs that tell you where to be and when, your processing software of choice (if any) etc….

But what about the less obvious, the stuff they don’t tell you about….

  • Firstly, because sunrise happens so early- especially in summer, you need to either be an insomniac or have had plenty of sleep.
  • If you can’t manage either of the conditions in the point above, you definitely need to have consumed your upper or stimulant of choice, and loads of it. If you’re one of these natural people, you need to have this sorted. The sun waits for no man or woman who is still waking up. The sooner you’re “with it” and concentrating on what you see, translating that into amazing images, the better.
  • You need to get used to being either the only one on a shoot, or you have to get used to strange people at truck-stops. At some point on your marvelous journey to the location, you will need to go to the bathroom, after consuming copious amounts of point 2. Even if your choice is to stay awake by drinking many liters of water and holding onto the urge to pee… You will encounter people in uncomfortably bright jackets for your tired, weary eyes, rugged up like they’re urban Eskimos and sporting a week-old facial hair shadow. Do not be alarmed, they’re mostly harmless but do stay quiet, relieve your bladder, buy some sweet poison and get on with it.
  • You have to get used to going a little nutty. At some point, your brain will realize what you’re doing and try and slap you upside the head for it. You’ll laugh at the ludicrousness of the hour you’re awake, how far from home you are, or how cold it is.
  • Your car should contain music you haven’t heard in a while. Preferably stuff you used to love many years ago that you don’t mind hearing again. Nothing repetitive that’ll send you to sleep, ideally something corny, embarrassing that you turn down at traffic lights, so as to not be stared at by the other strange freaks, like yourself, on the roads at that hour.
  • An element of daredevil, an evil streak, or put it simply, harden up and swallow some concrete for confidence. You will be presented with an amazing scene but a f*@king annoying pole, tree, unwelcome element in your composition and you may just have to jump, crawl, high jump up, under or over a fence, wall or cow that may be plain, barbed or electric to get your composition. You need to be willing to do that. I’m not going to take any responsibility if you get caught trespassing. Just know that sometimes, you have to get in, get the shot and get out. Don’t linger, don’t strip off and sun bake. Get it done, get out.
  • The most embarrassing gumboots you can find. Because they’re usually the cheapest.. after all, us camera folk are poor after buying gear, yeah? No shoot is complete without wading into water, mud, long grass, spiderwebs or cow shit, to get the shot.
  • Working upwards from your feet, you’re most definitely going to need warm clothes for winter. In Summer, heavy clothing is optional, but helps, especially if you run into any locals and can’t explain what you’re there for. If you’re naked amongst the cows, well then, that’s not going to look very good, will it? Once again, don’t wear your Versace suit out, go for the oldest pub shirt you have (preferably with stains so you blend in with locals getting their breakfasts from the bakery), some old torn jeans, or sneakers with holes in them.
  • The energy to keep on keeping on after your sunrise, and after you return to civilization. You will need to hide how tired you are from your friends, family and co-workers. You are a morning warrior, you did it, you got up hours before everyone else. You (hopefully) witnessed the awesome power of nature in its’ truest and most beautiful form. You feel positive and inspired. A healthy dose of your choice of stimulant will most probably be required again, at some stage during the day.
  • And in all honesty. You need to set yourself up for failure, sometimes. Because sometimes, conditions don’t go the way the weatherman said, sometimes you’ll find something blocking your path, or maybe it’ll just cloud over and you’ll be left with nothing. You need to accept that sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be amazing. Don’t let that burn you for future. Keep trying. Just look at all the people who play lottery. It’s the same for weather, but with better odds.

As I stated above, I’ve only just jumped back into the crazy game of shooting sunrises. Until I was in Tasmania, where I hiked to the highest peaks and rain foiled my attempt at any great shots, I hadn’t learnt to accept failure in recent years. I had lost the passion of the journey and all the crazy things that happen on the way to a shoot. I realised that in Tasmania, I loved the crazy stuff that happens, the sheer insanity and the pure joy of doing what I love.

Two days ago, I applied all these points to myself. On 4 hours sleep, I got up, drove 100km (each way!) from home, at 4am. I got lost in the darkness, had to default to an old location that I knew well, and put up with the odds I had drawn for myself. As it turns out, and as we all know, it could’ve very well gone awry. But it didn’t. And this was my reward:


It was very much my Dash of Insanity. I shot sunrise, I got about 30-45min of shooting, and then it was back in the car, praying for a traffic-free run home. Alas it was a weekday and I hit some, but not as much as I could’ve. This sunrise restores my faith in the gamble we all take.

But please, please, after all I’ve said with the humorous touches, please be safe on the road and at location. No shot is worth risking your life for.

That said, don’t get burnt by a bad rise or a bad location. Strive for more, strive for better, strive for quality. Sooner or later you will be rewarded, and if all else fails, shoot IR… do creative things during the middle of the day when you’re well rested.

It just won’t be as fun ;)


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