3 Steps to Becoming an Early Riser for Sunrise Photography

Man, this is something I struggle with. Deeply. Do you know what I mean? That sound of the alarm ringing at 5:30 a.m., or maybe 4:00 a.m. in the summer months?

The sound of the pinging phone is literally painful. It bounces around in my head and my eyes feel like they’ve been closed for a decade.

I’m just not a morning person.

In college, I turned to coffee for late nights studying and attending class after working all day. Now, I’ve repurposed that wonderful dark, liquid tool to support a new focus: photographing at sunrise.

Why would I do that to myself?

Well for one, early mornings have way fewer people out and about. This is a direct contrast with sunsets, where it seems like everyone is outside enjoying the last light of day. If I’m somewhere stunning like Zion National Park, this effect is even more pronounced. Famous lookouts are crammed full of tourists holding phones overhead and photographers jockeying for position with their tripods to get that perfect angle to shoot The Watchman glowing at golden hour.

Not for me.

Another thing to keep in mind is the sunrise light itself. It’s subtle, but definitely different. The glow tends to be more pink and red shades. The air is often calm too, so if I’m standing by a lake there’s a good chance the surface is as smooth as glass. The temperature is lower too, so fog is always way more likely in the morning hours.

When I look back on my favorite photos from the past two years, easily two thirds of them are from predawn and sunrise. As a result, I’ve begrudgingly set my alarm earlier and earlier in 2021, with the ultimate goal of becoming a predawn regular.

So then – how can you do the same if you’ve got the same aversion to sunrise as me?

Step 1: start inching that alarm back by 15 minutes every week.

When I started, my alarm was usually set for 7:45, giving me exactly 15 minutes to freshen up and get to work by 8:00 or 8:15 (yeah I know, lucky… no long commute and telecommuting). Gradually over the past 3 months, I’ve worked down now to between 5:15 and 5:30, with the goal of settling in at 4:45 once the clocks change. Nice! This incremental approach is the opposite of the “boiling the frog” approach, and it’s been working. It’s starting to feel less painful. Not gone, but less than it was. Might be as good as it gets.

Step 2: Have all camera gear already packed and ready to go.

If I have my memory cards in and lenses preselected for the day, and with everything all loaded up in my backpack sitting by the door, I am 10 times more likely to actually get out the door. If I have to wake up, and then make decisions on what to load? Forget it.

Step 3: Make coffee.

Duh. This is usually my first action in the morning anyway, but having it brewing while getting dressed is something to look forward to when I finally grab my keys to go. Plus, there’s the bonus of knowing that I’ll get to enjoy it overlooking somewhere beautiful and alone in the outdoors instead of hunched over my work laptop reviewing spreadsheets.

So these are the three items I’ve implemented in 2021 that have been making this goal a reality. I’m far from having it nailed, but for this early in the year I’m liking the progress.

Any other tips to share that get you non-early risers out early? Share them below! I definitely could use the help.

Happy shooting,


2 Comments on “3 Steps to Becoming an Early Riser for Sunrise Photography

  1. I have no problem getting up in the morning, I’m a duck hunter. The hardest thing to do in the morning; Taking that first step out the door. Once out, all is good.

    Liked by 2 people

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