This is the best time of year to photograph the sunrise from my favorite spot on Edisto Island. After gradually working its way down the Atlantic Coast for much of the year, the sun is finally at the perfect spot—straight out from the dock and just to the right of the trees that will block my view in a few weeks’ time.
I don’t go out to watch the sunrise, much less photograph it, very often—not nearly as often as I should. It’s a shame, because it’s one of my favorite ways to start the day. There is something about going out early when there is nothing more than a faint glow over the horizon, witnessing the day start, and then walking back to the house in the morning sunlight, empty coffee mug in hand.
So, when I finally made arrangements to be in the right place at the right time, I was more than ready to go.
Heavy Clouds Do Not a Sunrise Photo Make
I knew it was going to be cloudy. I didn’t know it when I planned my morning out, but I knew it a day or two in advance. I still stuck with my plan, hoping that maybe the clouds would scatter overnight. They didn’t. I got a glimpse of the sun—a glowing orange orb—between two clouds low on the horizon, but it wasn’t nearly enough to take the photos I was after.
It was disappointing, but at least my camera worked. I wasn’t so sure initially. I hadn’t used it for weeks, and I had decided to give the mirror a long-overdue cleaning the night before. When I switched it on, the viewfinder stayed black. “I left the lens cap on,” I told myself. But, I was wrong. I reached for it, but instead of grabbing it I put a thumb print right in the middle of the lens.
As it turned out, I had my neutral density filter on. A neutral density filter is used to darken the lens—ideal for taking photos in the bright Charleston sunlight, but far less ideal at 7:00am on a mid-December morning. Between the cloud cover and my neutral density filter, I had a fleeting concern that my relationship with my 12-year-old DSLR may have come to an end. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Not so fortunately, the sun was coming up, and the heavy clouds weren’t going away.
By this point the no-see-ums were starting to bother me. I was on a dock on a creek that connects to an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean (with the owner’s permission, trespassing is strictly prohibited); and, as usual, the no-see-ums were out in full force. I generally do my best to ignore them; but, when things aren’t working out as planned, the annoyance of the persistent itchiness starts to wear.
Even so, I resolved to make the best of the situation. When I went back to the house to review my photos, I was glad I did.
The Gray Sky Highlights the Marsh’s Natural Beauty
Mind, they weren’t the photos I took with my resurrected DSLR. Based on what I saw through the viewfinder, I thought I had gotten some good shots. But, as is often the case (at least for me), a few of the shots were slightly blurry, and the moody shots of the raindrops falling on the water weren’t that moody after all. Instead, it was my phone that saved the day.
I almost didn’t bring it. I try not to carry my phone when I don’t have to; and, even though I had work to do when I got back, I didn’t want to rush my morning. I knew I would be behind my laptop at a reasonable time, and that was good enough. But, out of habit, I had it with me; and, also out of habit, I took some photos with my phone in addition to snapping shots with my DSLR.
They turned out to be some of my favorite photos I’ve taken in a while. Of course, notably absent from any of these photos is the sunrise. The clouds didn’t cooperate, nor did the no-see-ums, but the diffuse low light that made its way through allowed the spartina grasses (or Sporobolus)—and even the pluff mud—to steal the show. Contrasted with the steely blue of the clouds reflecting on the still marsh water, the greens and grays take center stage when they would typically fade away.
All photos were taken on private property with the owner's permission. Trespassing is strictly prohibited.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
It’s hard to call any morning spent on a dock unfortunate. I fully realize that I, like many Charlestonians, have more than most. But, when viewed through the lens of trying to photograph the sunrise in a very limited window of time, waking up to cloud cover that portends impending rain is less than ideal.
I like being outdoors; and, in general, I try not to let the weather keep me inside. As the saying goes, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. I’m not so sure this is true everywhere, but I think it’s generally true in Charleston.
So, when I knew it was going to be cloudy, I decided to see my plan through. And, in the end, I’m glad I did. Going out to the dock early reminded me of how much I like this time of morning—with the stillness and quiet that the nighttime brings.
Plus, I think I got some pretty good photos. The colors in particular are what stand out to me from this series. I think most of the compositions are decent too, though many of these are variations of photos I’ve taken dozens of times before.
I’m not one for clichés, but I’ve used at least one already, and I’m going to close with another one. My failed attempt to photograph the Edisto Island sunrise helped remind me that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. There are no bad days, only days you don’t seize.
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