As a follow up to Where Sunrises Rule The World I will take you back to Hawk Dreaming and the edge of the crocodile and mosquito rich river. I will share my sunrise shooting experience with two new panoramas from this morning.
I am back in Hawk Dreaming on the edge of the river. I have arrived early to capture the dawn light and greet the mosquitoes. I have chosen my composition, setup my gear and applied a full can of mossie repellent. It is an astoundingly beautiful morning; it is already more than 25 degrees but the air still has a crisp and fresh morning feel and smell. As the very first dawn light appears I capture the first panorama while it is still quite dark:
East Alligator River at Dawn
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography
Ten minutes later and it is already close to daylight and the light has warmed considerably. I make small adjustments to the composition and exposure and shoot our second panorama in this series:
East Alligator River at Sunrise
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography
I could have wished for a few more clouds (the appeared later as seen here) and a stronger composition. But the colours and the light are gorgeous and a true representation of sunrise at this river, and at large size you can see the lovely thick layer of mist on the floodplains. Let us examine in detail how to capture this light and these colours.
Shooting the tropical sun rising
Walk softly and always carry mosquito repellent! The composition in these panoramas is dictated by the mosquitoes. Ideally I would have been lower and closer to the water; making the river (a finger of the East Alligator River) seem bigger with more colour reflection in the water. No go mate. I have never experienced a wall of a million mosquitoes quite like this! There was no choice but to step back 7-8 meters from the edge of the river and still I was getting eaten. Without mossie repellent you won’t get these shots so arm yourself. This is Where Mosquitoes Rule The World!
Be prepared; be quick! Coming from a cold dark non-tropical place you will be surprised by how quickly the sun rises in the tropics. You have very little time to work in before the sun basically jumps to the top of the sky and is at full force. So be prepared, arrive early and find your composition before the light show begins. The very best light is usually at dawn so no sleeping in! You should basically be setting up in complete darkness.
Use ND graduated filters! I used a Cokin 2-stop ND grad filter to even out the exposure between sky and ground but learned that this is nowhere near enough to tame the tropical sun rising. I needed a 4-stop and even a 6-stop in my kit as the difference in light level especially at dawn is incredible. Still a 2-stop is better than nothing and without an ND grad filter you would either blow out the sky or capture a pitch black foreground.
Do not blow the red channel! The red channel will be at least a couple of stops brighter than the other channels, so do not trust the luminance histogram on your camera. A blown red channel will ruin a tropical sunrise or sunset, creating ugly yellows and greens where there should be orange and red! Study your RGB histogram carefully if you have one, or bracket your exposures.
Finally…enjoy! Do not get so caught up in shooting, checking histograms, looking through the viewfinder, levelling the tripod, setting exposure, focus and aperture etc. that you completely forget to enjoy the spectacle! Step back once in a while and take it all in. We shoot landscapes because we love nature so don’t let the camera get in the way all the time. Enjoy!