Stop Chasing Sunrises

I’m an early riser. I naturally wake between 4 and 6 and a lie in sees me up no later than 7.30. As a landscape photographer, this can be a strategic advantage. However it can also be exhausting.

For a few weeks each year, the sun rises so that from a clearing on the Polden Hills¬†you can use a telephoto lens and it forms a halo behind Glastonbury Tor. In 2020 I was after this image. When I say ‘after’ I feel like some kind of crazed Victorian biologist with a butterfly net. But this is the way I used to shoot. I returned to a subject again and again until I got perfect conditions.

Anyway, after years of planning, months of testing compositions, and two weeks being woken by 3am alarms, I got a sunrise at the Tor beyond my imagination:

Shooting in this way can really get results. If you find a strong composition, visit them often and in all conditions. However, only chasing sunrise and sunset colours can be a mistake – it can make you over reliant on conditions and you may not develop such a good eye for composing.

However, there is another reason, I have gone off chasing sunrise and sunset colours. My obsession with atmospherics impacted other areas of my life: I spent insane amounts of time looking at weather apps and anticipating the next banger sunrise; I would head out of the door at a moments notice to chase the light; and, instead of just standing in wonder and enjoying it, I would be sad watching a sky light up if I didn’t have my camera with me. At its best, photography enhances my experiences. I use it as an excuse to spend more time in nature, and at social events – with camera in hand – I have a function. But the constant ‘reaching’ when chasing sky colour does the opposite – it makes me feel like I am missing out rather than participating.

In the autumn I took my first dedicated photography trip. I drove to Scotland and spent a week on Skye and Harris. It took some of my best photos on this trip. But it took me a couple of days to really get into shooting. This surprised me. I think about photography all the time and I thought I was as immersed as I could be, but giving photography dedicated time was different. I sunk deeper and deeper into a state of mind that made me see things differently. I have been steadily editing the photos since and I still have half a dozen still to go.

I like this pace of working. Perhaps a couple of trips a year and less frantic photo chasing when I am home in Bristol is a better pattern for me. I am not saying that I won’t be tempted by a gorgeous sunrise again. As I write this, the sunset was ironically spectacular (and I shot some frames from my window.) However freeing up the space usually filled chasing sunrises means I can spend my early hours doing other important things, such as editing, writing and doing exercise. 

The hunt for colours is important learning stage for landscape photographers – especially at the beginning when the learning curve is steep and we have boundless enthusiasm for our new hobby. But this pace of activity isn’t sustainable. I would much rather have a backlog of images to work through and learn from rather than be rushing around fragmenting my day.

Saying all this, if an red alert for aurora happens on a clear evening, I will be in the car driving north on the M5 before I’ve thought twice… or informed my wife!