Often writers start with something like, “As dawn broke…”, but with dawn shoots we’re up and out well before dawn, night time really, usually without the knowledge of what the dawn will bring. As I drive across the forest at this time of day - or night - I always look to the east to try and pre-empt the sky at dawn. Clouds are good, providing the sun can break through. However the ambient light from Southampton and Fawley can mask the reality. Their warm glow falsifying the situation. Arriving at our meet point north of Burley, the sky looks okay. Cloudy, but not a blanket. Over coffee, we chat about the changing light. How the indigo blue of night, that inkiness even some car manufacturers try and copy, but none can truly replicate, very gradually at first, changes into daylight. This ‘change‘, is something dawn virgins sometimes have trouble dealing with. Almost imperceptibly, one moment it is night and the next it s day. To my mind, it seems to take place over about 8 minutes starting around 25 minutes or so before sunrise. Knowing how to operate your camera, where the buttons are, which one does what, is crucial at this time. I’ve seen many a photographer struggle on dawn shoots trying to find ‘mirror lock up’ for example. I recommend practising in a darkened room with the lights out!
Coming up to sunrise, most people concentrate on the rising sun itself, but looking through 90 degrees often brings about the pinkies into the frame. Pinkies are of course the technical term for clouds catching the pre dawn light and glowing pink as the waves of light diffuse through the atmosphere onto their surface. All this is conveyed to the guests as they fire their shutters at the sky if front of them. Its direction changing the landscape, or more precisely, the way we see the landscape, as shadows are formed in the cross light creating texture and form, where before there was flat definition. Once the sun is up, its golden rays breaking through the clouds to spotlight the remaining bell heather on the ridge, and the wispy grasses nearby as shots are composed looking down onto the moor. This is short lived however as another shower approaches. Time for breakfast.
Bolderwood beacons after the eggs and bacon and compositional exercise come into play. The shower has passed and light returns. I like to give a set of compositional aims to be included in a series of shots and let the guests work out how to achieve them. Discussing the resultant problems encountered and how they have been overcome is a great learning tool for all. Also, as the shots we take are how we see things, there are no right or wrong photographs, just differing perspectives on the view. Totally subjective.
These exercises culminated on this occasion with one final shot to be taken. Just one final composition. One final squeeze of the shutter release. One final exposure. Just one attempt at getting the ‘perfect’ composition but seeing it first of all, seeing the final image before exposing, that was the test. They worked hard as even after twenty minutes or so from starting the exercise, no sensors had been exposed. Twenty five minutes passed by and my anticipation was rising. I could see where they were, quite diverse aspects by all, but all with a common goal. Finally they one by one came over and, as they were all digitally embraced, showed me the fruits of their labours. The point of it all? To see the finished image before you’ve taken it, rather than taking hundreds and hoping there is one in there somewhere. Also, as concentration comes into play, often missed details, like branches coming into frame unintentionally get dialled out at the viewfinder stage. Without being patronising, well, in fact it doesn’t matter what I think, the photographers all felt that these shots taken were far better as a result of taking the time to think about the composition. Job done.
The debrief of the two days essentially concentrated on two main subjects, how we started the day before with composition and light and ended today with composition and light. Understanding and striving to master these greatly improves our photography. I’m still practicing - are you?