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  • Writer's pictureStephen Rodger

First Light

Updated: May 10, 2020

The first 15 minutes after dawn have the most extreme hues of light. This project explores this phenomenon.

This is a project I did after being inspired by the very early morning photographs I had seen other leading wildlife (and other) photographers take.

Learn from others. Don't re-invent the wheel. Research your project and then evolve as you go. Get inspired from other photographers of the past, and look outside your genre for ideas.

Writing this in May 2020 the alarm goes off at 4.40am if I'm to make it to the loch in time for daybreak. I think it's important with this project to be upfront, well, upfront.

Perfect for a locked down world

One of the attractions of this project was that you knew if you were going to be successful or not within a short space of time, ideal for a world where trips from the house are limited. Since the shooting window is only a quarter of an hour, there really is no hanging around.

You know in advance where the sun will be, you also know when it will be. The only real variables are the weather, and the forecast helps with that, and of course the animals. If the animals are not there, quite frankly walk away and come back another day. Be persistent, this isn't about patiently waiting in a hide for several hours.

"Think different"

Be persistent rather than patient.

My choice here was to head to a loch. The reason for this is that sunrise is quite different from sunset over a still body of water. Why? Temperature gradients.

Photograph a loch or lake at sunset and you'll get similar hues to the very early morning, but something will likely be missing, mist on the water. Over the course of a day the earth and bodies of water reach the same temperature. During the night, especially if it's a clear night with no clouds to provide insulation, the water retains it's heat much more so than the land. Fast forward to dawn and the relatively higher water temperature creates mist on the water's surface which you can backlight with the rising sun.

Technical stuff

The decision I took was to use a long telephoto lens and tripod. I did this because I wanted to be able to isolate those parts of the loch where the backlighting of the mist was the strongest, and I wanted to use the perspective characteristics of a long telephoto to "stack up" the background behind my subject.

Things you should be aware of would be:

1. If you're lucky enough to get good atmospheric mist be prepared for your autofocus system to melt down! If you stick with autofocus use the central autofocus sensor in your camera, as it will work the best.

2. Remember you're going for atmosphere not ultimate sharpness, no-one shooting through mist is going to get the sharpest image that your lens is capable of.

3. Get down low. Eye level with your subject is best.

4. Use a tripod to maximise your chance of a relatively sharp image and allow a reasonably low iso to maximise image quality.

While I treat my camera equipment as tools to do a job, and so I don't focus too much on what I'm using. The tools I used for this project were mainly a Canon 1Dx ii with Canon 600mm ii f4 with Canon 2x iii extender combined with a Gitzo 5 series systematic tripod. Towards the end of the project I began using the new Canon 1Dx iii which had just become available.

Under the Projects tab on here look for FIRST LIGHT if you would like to see the rest of the series of pictures taken.

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