Ian runs Photographic Workshops around the UK and Europe including the New Forest, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Jersey, Italy, ‘One to One’ sessions together with PhotoTreks for beginners and improvers in the New Forest and surrounding areas. To find out more visit his website at www.IanBadley.com
It’s tough at this time of year. Much tougher than the depths of winter – well, apart from the cold and the warm duvet of course. In December with sunrise at a leisurely 8am or even later on occasions it’s no big deal. But now? It’s tough. The dawn shoot. All photographers talk about it. Less actually do it of course but that’s only natural. There’s nothing natural about breaking into your sleep pattern at some ungodly hour. It is unnatural. Does that make us weird? In my case most of those who know me will concur that I am weird but hey, I’ve got broad shoulders. Do I care? Not a lot! Here’s why. Sunrise is around 4:40am but the best light occurs before then. For the pre-dawn glow that’s another fifty or so minutes earlier with a clear sky so that’s 3:50am! Do you stay out late or get up early? I’ve done both and have to say that the getting up early is best. Either way it’s tough. It means that even if shooting locally, the alarm is set for 3am! Gear is checked and packed the night before together with water and some bananas usually, then out to the location, park and trudge. The birds are usually out and about and chirping wildly and the forest deer scuttle around playing follow the leader through the fresh growth of bracken. You can still get mists if you’re lucky, but they don’t last long before being burnt off. Me, I will often head for water. Forest ponds, rivers or the sea. I don’t know what it is but the combination of a summer dawn with water, maybe reflecting the clean dawn colours, draws me frequently. Getting in position early is the key. Location and viewpoint already sussed out before hand with a clear vision of the objective, the finished image, so you’re not faffing about. If you do faff, the light will be gone. Well in reality it is the opposite in that it will have come, becoming too harsh, but I’m sure you can deduce what I mean. So, I get on the plot in plenty of time and set up watching for the subtle at first changes of light on the horizon. With the sun angle breaking sea level at just 49 degrees as opposed to the wildly different 128 degrees in December, that crucial factor must be dialled in to the equation as well, otherwise you’re in for a big shock and at worst, no image! Round here it’s not like the Med. There, you can get the backdrop of mountains and maybe you can add in a moored yacht or two to create the quintessential calm ‘I want to be there’ image.
Alternatively in Provence, on the plains of lavender around Sault, the Montagne de Baronnies and Albion provide the horizon for you. No, here it’s different, particularly on the Solent where its flat, and the Isle of Wight can also be a hindrance to the composition, but you learn to live/deal with that. Yachts plus water plus floating plus low light means movement. How do you lose it? I don’t try. Never fight the elements but work with them so use the movement. Don’t try to hold it back because inevitably you’ll fail. Give it more movement so viewers are in no doubt about that it’s what you intended. No one said it was easy. So why do we do it? If you have to ask then you’re clearly a virgin. There’s something unique about it. The light is number one as always, but there’s also the pre-emption, (yes I’ve checked the spelling), of being first to know what the day will bring. The fact that you are seeing the day before others. The fact that this dawn is now. Over. Never to be repeated and you’ve grabbed it. It’s in the bag. No one else can ever get it. It is short lived however, and before long the light levels are too harsh to be of use. The reverse trudge – and if it’s on shingle that doesn’t help matters – begins. The time now? Just around 6am maybe 6.30 if you’re lucky. It’s tough. Short lived, but magic. There is always the final satisfaction of course, as you pass all those making their way to their office or place of work. They’ve missed the best of the day, but you haven’t.
Now the processing to make the effort worthwhile. Easy isn’t it.