The Early Bird

They say you have to get up early to get the best photographs


I have read and heard it said that to get the best photographs, you have to get up earlier than most, and sometimes go to bed later than all.  I’ve found this to generally be true, but it makes for one very tired and grumpy photographer.  I took the picture above at Morro Bay last year on a camping trip.  I rose before the sun, had a small flashlight and a backpack full of gear.  I took my trusty tripod, and set up in the dark and waited.  It was too early for even a cup of coffee.  Being dark, I couldn’t see particularly well where I’d put my tripod, but by the time this shot was taken, the tide had come in and my shoes were soaked.

It’s a great thing to be a photographer, and to be out when no one else is.  You get a sense that the entire world is yours.  In places like the one above, you rarely encounter another human being, and this is generally the case for several hours at least.  In our modern world things rush by so fast, and we are pulled in so many directions that it should be no wonder that so many people simply break.  Suicide has been reported as the 10th Leading cause of death in the U.S.  When I was a teacher, what I often told my students was to find a hobby.  Every person needs a reason to get up early, something that excites them and makes them feel as though they are contributing to the larger conversation.  It is the same advise I would give to any adult.  If you run, run early, if you sew, sew early.  If you write, write early.  You will find yourself in a place that is more mental and spiritual than you could ever have expected, and the rewards include peace of mind and a charge to the imagination.

What I remember best about taking the photograph above was the sense of being tied to a world that was, even as things appeared nearly still about me, being flung through the universe at an unimaginable speed.  I thought of my speck-like presence in the face of all of history, time, and space, and my very insignificance was reassuring.  How could any mistake, after all, no matter how large and disastrous it might seem in human terms, mean much in a universe so large and so grand?  Our loves, our hates, our petty wants and prurient interests are mere flickers of nothing in this greater cause.  I thought of science and God, and puzzled that human imagination is so small that there seems little ability (or is it interest) to find that intersection that would allow each to coexist without hostility.

I’ve had similar feelings walking the dark streets of an early San Francisco morning.  I’ve thought similar thoughts as I’ve walked shoulder to shoulder with fisherman hungrily boarding their barges for the morning catch.  I’ve laid myself down upon the massive boulders of Joshua Tree as my camera captured the movement of the earth against the silent canopy of the stars.  What I’ve discovered may very well be a secret kept from most of us, but it is a secret worth sharing.  It is a beautiful world full of peace and good, but you have to get up awfully early in the morning sometimes to find it.

  1. Beautiful photo … and well said! I am often invited to spend a day shooting with fellow photographers, but just can’t bring myself to do it on a regular basis (just enough that I don’t totally alienate my my photog friends). Now that I live abroad it is much easier. Photography to me is more like a Zen State-of-Mind … and when I am in the flow time passes quickly and unnoticed … it is a meditation. SFD

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