By Robert Sherman ~ People tease me for going to bed at 9 p.m. My early bedtimes make early risings pretty inevitable. Back pain and age can wake me up as well. But then my synapses start firing as if they had been waiting for everyone else to be asleep before they light up like a sunrise. So I don’t mind it. In fact, I love it, because I love sunrises.
It used to be that, as a musician, I’d do my most focused writing and practicing when nobody needed anything from me, before the crack of dawn. Strong coffee and something personally important to do were all that was required. Now I just want to photograph the sunrise.
When my kids were tiny we never missed a single one. Sitting on the beach stairs with them to watch this daily miracle together was incredibly special. Since those early years they sleep in ludicrously late. I hope as adults they’ll still, from time to time, want to chase that sacred first light.
Back in the day, I also loved doing dawn patrol with my best surfmate, Chris Raschka. We’d leave the city in time to watch the lights turn off on the Triboro Bridge as we sped to Long Beach – park, suit up, unstrap our boards, and hit the water right as the sun popped up on the horizon – just the two of us. Now that was quietude … until the Concorde would growl overhead as it approached JFK from Europe. But it doesn’t do that anymore.
On the beach it’s the off-season or many weekdays in summer that see nary a footprint in the sand. On weekends and high season I find little congregations here and there, but everyone is too sleepy to interrupt my photographic trance upon the sun’s grand arrival. Homage is being quietly paid. Dog walkers are okay because they’re on an important mission. They are task-oriented.
With my sunrise photos I’m not a big fan of glare or, for that matter, even reality. So I use a really long lens to compress the distance and make the perfect outline of the orange ball much bigger than it is to the naked eye. I set my film speed as low as it can go for smoothness, and I close my aperture for extra detail as much as the light will allow. When that’s not enough to make the otherworldly drama erupt out of the darkness I’ll adjust my shutter speed as necessary to complete the histrionics of time, light, and space. They already seem like hallucinations anyway, so I like to take them all the way into the realm of a psychedelic interplanetary mind-warp.
There, now you have a few ingredients from my recipe book. You can always add or subtract salt or sugar to taste.
The sky begs for some modicum of passing clouds or seagulls to make the scene complete, but really any sunrise will do. It’s a solitary moment still unencumbered by the arriving day.
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