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5 Things I Learned Photographing Sunrises

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

I'm an early bird, and it is not uncommon for me to be up at 4:00 am or earlier. The silence of the morning seems to call to me.

Silence has always been something I sought out. As a kid, I would spend countless hours playing Lego quietly in my room or sitting under an old cherry tree in our backyard. This fascination with silence developed into the need to spend extended periods alone in nature.

Hiking into the backcountry with everything I needed to survive for 7-days was a common occurrence in my late twenties and early thirties.

In the silence, I found myself. Although this sounds cliche, it is true.

Slowly the long periods of silence were replaced with the responsibilities of career, family and adulthood.

When we are prepared to sit quietly with something for long enough, like a sunrise, an animal, an idea or another person, we will inevitably open up to an entirely new conversation. This conversation will tear down the wall between us and the world and help us see underneath the stories, mistruths and masks we have convinced ourselves we need to stay safe.

I'm talking about the labels and judgments, the concerns that we become overly concerned about that have us flailing through the day distracted.

During the midst of the pandemic, I was beginning to lose hope. My business was struggling, and I could start to feel the weight of hardship beginning to weigh me down. Every day things just got a little bit heavier, and self-doubt and despair began to creep into my life.

There must be something I could do as this wasn't the first time that I was facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

I needed to get back to nature. I needed to reconnect with the silence in a new way.

In the mornings, I committed to going for long walks, two or three hours. On these walks, I became reacquainted with the sunrise and all the gifts it has to share. It was like being meeting an old friend.

A short time later, I decided to take pictures of what I saw on those morning walks. As I stood alone in the morning silence, waiting patiently for the sun to peek over the horizon, I started to have realizations about the importance of the ritual I was partaking in. Realizations that wove as themes for my life, and I wanted to share with you these thoughts.

Beautiful things take time.

Sunrises are slow and incremental processes that unfold at their own pace. I remember the first time I set up to photograph the sunrise. My mind was going to "Let's get on with it already." I caught myself and laughed out loud.

The sky begins to change long before the sun ever pokes over the horizon. The glow washes up and over the edge of the earth, transforming everything into a dark silhouette.

It isn't easy to describe the immense beauty that fills the sky at that moment. The colours, the shadows and the natural world come alive and remind me of the order of things.

If you are truly going to create something beautiful in life, it will take time.

Golden skies with reflections of piles sticking out of the calm water with the silhouette of a tree.
Sunrise at the Fraser River

There is always a moment where everything is golden.

If you analyzed the sunrise's colour pallet, millions, if not trillions of shades of oranges, reds, and yellows, occur during its 2 to 5 minutes of happening.

There always seems to be this moment about halfway through that everything gets cast with a deep gold. It is a challenging moment to capture, but I have noticed this one consistent thing.

Just like the sunrise, we all have the moment when everything is gold.

When, where and how often those moments occur is entirely up to us.

If I am busy distracted by something or fiddling with the camera, I miss the moment in the sunrise that I call the 'golden moment.' I need to be intentional about it, and so do we need to be intentional about those moments in life. They are happening more than we think, but as we are busy fiddling about, we miss them, and we are left in wonderment of why we are feeling empty and alone.

Turn your sights on these 'golden moments,' after all; it is what you focus on that you see.

No sunrises are the same.

Every sunrise I have photographed has been different. The differences are what make them so attractive. The way the sun on that morning plays off the surroundings, or the shade of grapefruit pink it casts on the clouds or lights up the snow-covered mountains. I have gone to the same spots repeatedly and shot different experiences.

It was Mark Twain who said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." As humans, we are not supposed to be the same, and we are not supposed to line up and follow one another like sheep.

A sunrise carves its unique path and never apologizes for it; I think we are all called to do the same.

It takes 50 tries to get one great shot.

During an outing, I will take about 60 to 100 frames. If it was a great morning, a few will be of a quality that I would like to share with others, and the rest will sit in a folder on the computer.

It is not as if they were terrible, but they miss a certain quality that I want to see.

The exciting part about it is that if I didn't take the picture just before or the image right after the one hit the money, one shot that hit the money might not exist.

It is essential to keep trying. I am not suggesting that we should bang our heads against the wall in a fruitless effort to succeed. I am just saying; we take a shot, make an adjustment, take another picture, and move forward.

The inevitable result is that we get what it is that we want.

Clouds are lighting up pink and soft orange as the sun rises looking out towards the Salish Sea.
Sunrise at Wreck Beach, near UBC

There is a bigger picture.

Sunrise is an important moment to me. The dramatic start of a new day and an opportunity to do things slightly differently than I did the day before. All in the name of growth.

I am a forward-focused person; I'm not particularly eager to dwell on the past. It just doesn't feel right.

When I am out taking pictures of the sunrise, I can become hyper-focused on getting that optimal result. Some of my best photos have had me turn around and see what is happening behind me.

The way the morning light cast its glow on the mountain range, maybe an animal has come into the picture and is uniquely presenting itself, or a fishing boat gets lit up, and a brilliant shadow falls over the dock creating an eye-catching pattern.

Life presents itself in a very similar way. Some lessons live behind us, and we need only look and reflect on our part to receive the reward. I like to look behind me long enough to receive the gift and then turn back towards what is waiting in front of me.

Nature creates a unique opportunity to grow when we stop long enough to pay attention to the rhythm. This growth has been the gift that photographing sunrises have given to me.

If you want to know more about me, you can check out my website at or follow me on my social channels.

Photography Instagram - @liveinsidethepause

Leadership & LifCoaching Instagram - @smallpausecoach

Small Pause Shop Instagram - @smallpauseshop

The sun is setting on a beach near Courtenay, B.C.
A Courtney Sunset

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