Sunrise Opportunities

This past winter, I had two mornings with quite a few sunrise opportunities that I was thrilled to capture. Normally I try to capture sunrise images as landscapes with something interesting in the composition. On these particular mornings, my goal was not to capture the sunrise, but to capture nesting birds at the Viera Wetlands. I had arrived early enough that I thought I might get some good sunrise light, but I was really looking for the first rays of light to kiss the Great Blue Herons that nest on top of cabbage palms at the wetlands. To my delight, I found that shooting the herons with the sunrise as the background was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

The morning sky had some beautiful high, thin clouds that were fantastic for reflecting the predawn light. The light started out as a deep red as it reflected off the clouds. I captured this single heron on top of his cabbage palm with the morning light reflecting off the clouds. The actual sunrise was still several minutes away, but the gorgeous colors in the sky were just incredible. Be sure to click the images to view larger.

Great Blue Heron on nest at sunrise
Great Blue Heron on nest at sunrise.

After a few minutes, the light began to turn more orange than red as the sun continued to climb towards the horizon. I shifted the subject from a heron nest to a Double-crested Cormorant who was roosting in a nearby palm tree.

Double-crested Cormorant roosting at sunrise
Double-crested Cormorant roosting at sunrise

A few more minutes went by and the sky continued to change both in color and texture. I shifted position again to take advantage of a portion of the sky that had less clouds in it. With the sky texture less busy and the light turning from orange to yellow, I was perfectly positioned when a Great Blue Heron returned to its nest and mate right before me. The two herons began preening each other and I snapped off a few frames. The shots were incredibly difficult to capture as I had a very low shutter speed due to the lack of light and the herons were constantly moving. I finally got enough light for a shutter speed that generated a sharp image as the two herons seemed to kiss. I don’t think the two beaks were actually touching in this image, but the silhouette and bright background give the appearance of a kiss. I think this might have been my favorite of the day.

Sunrise Love
Sunrise Love

A couple of weeks later, I tried my luck again to head over to Viera in hopes of getting another gorgeous sky and more chances to generate silhouettes like the ones above. When we arrived at the wetlands, the local managers had not opened the gate yet, so we were early enough, but we couldn’t get in to where we wanted to shoot. The light on the horizon was just fantastic, as it had been on my previous visit. The managers eventually opened the gate and we rushed in only to find that the beautiful light was gone and replaced with fog. I’ve never done particularly well with fog and I was quite disappointed. Fog can be very beautiful in an image, but I just haven’t mastered that part of my craft.

As the sun began to climb and the fog began to burn off, I recognized an opportunity to capture the rising sun behind the nesting herons. If the sun had been full strength with no fog to reduce the light, this shot would have been impossible. But the fog and light were just right. So I lined up my shot, set the settings on the camera, waited for just the right moment when the two herons were interacting, pressed the shutter, and … missed the shot. I completely blew the opportunity and came away with absolutely nothing worth salvaging. As I mentioned, I don’t have a lot of experience with fog and it showed. I had all the settings off enough that the image was just a mess.

But I really liked the composition that I was going for, so I took one of my practice shots of the fog-shrouded sun and a shot of the nesting herons I took after the fog lifted and combined them together in Photoshop. For some photography purists, this isn’t photography but digital art instead. I’m OK with that and when I do digital art, I always make sure to indicate that the image is a composite or digital art. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if two photographs blended together make an appealing image that others will enjoy, where is the harm?

The image below is the result of my post-processing. While this is a composite of two images, both were taken on the same day at the same place within an hour of each other. Alone both images are OK, but nothing special. But when blended together, I think they provide a compelling image.

Sunrise, fog and herons - a composite
Sunrise, fog and herons – a composite

I liked this image so much that I converted it into my new logo. This new logo now shows up on my posts to Flickr both as a way to brand my work, but also as a way to identify my work online. Many of my images have been, how shall I word this…”borrowed” by those that would rather use the image for their own purposes for free rather than pay me for a license. My old logo was too easy to Photoshop out of what they took, so I’m hoping that this new logo is a bit harder for those that would take bread off my table to remove from the image.