For me, capturing a sunrise often coincides with a vacation. During the month of February 2015 temperatures were insanely cold. Memories of a fun-filled fall were long forgotten and cabin fever was starting to spread through the household. Worry not though, Groupon came to the rescue with a reasonable two-day pass for an indoor water park about ten minutes away in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The wife bought the deal, and I took Thursday and Friday off work. To Canada we go!
We had a great time at the water park. There is a lot to be said for summer fun in the winter. All the park fun was followed by a Hard Rock Cafe dinner which featured beer. Our crew included myself, my wife Nicole, and our two boys currently seven and three years old (so five and one at the time of this story). I'm pretty sure we were a spectacle wherever we ended up as we often are. But to me the key is being 100 percent OK with that since we really have fun and love our kids. But yes they are a handful, so the beer with dinner was appreciated and enjoyed. The Hard Rock also had a Trent Reznor guitar with a Trent Resnor plaque which I'm still surprised by. I would think the plaque engraver people were more on their game than that, but maybe NIN isn't a big deal in Canada. Anyways, I guess you care about the photo stuff.
The original game plan (existing only in my head of course) was this, on Friday morning I'd get up and shoot the sunrise right at the edge of the Horseshoe Falls. Thursday was unbelievably cold out, so I wondered about whether I'd actually be able to handle the elements for more than a few minutes with nothing between me and some of the coldest breath Mother Nature had to offer. I decided it was not an option to pass up on this rare opportunity so I committed to following through and set the alarm.
The alarm worked, I got dressed and snuck out of the room after many non ninja-like sounds got me the "shhh!" When I got to the van it showed -8 degrees as the current temperature. I shivered uncontrollably while it warmed and suddenly realized I had a problem. Being the non plan-ahead type, I didn't have my gloves. They were in the hotel room with the sleeping family. Oh well, I'll be fine I said. More on that later.
The ND filter had to be put on in the car since I knew it would be too cold to screw it on at the falls edge. When I got out there the conditions were insane. I literally was wondering what I was doing there the whole time and kept thinking "wow does this cold hurt my fingers." Well, the wind chill was around -27 degees and let's just say my hands still burn a little under hot water from the slight frostbite. Never again will I make that mistake. I probably could have stayed another 10 minutes otherwise. The weather and mist also meant I couldn't successfully auto focus or see anything to manually focus since my LCD was fogged and wet. Luckily for me, and I guess this article now, infinity focus worked great.
I was not the only photographer to brave the elements on this crazy morning. There had to be 10 other photographers there. One of them, Christine Hess, I recognized from some news articles and a local Facebook group. I was a bit too nervous, embarrassed by the no gloves, and basically too cold to produce any small talk. I ended up being the last to get there and the first to leave because of my rookie mistake. Blowing hot air into my hands actually just made them worse since the condensation would immediately start to freeze.
One thing to try when shooting a sunrise is change compositions often. This may go against getting that one perfect shot you were looking for, but sometimes the shot you planned takes a distant second to some of your alternate ideas you try during a shoot. Long exposure is a funny thing once you get into it. Unlike a regular shoot where you may get a few hundred photos quickly, with long exposure photography you come home after shooting for a while and have 20 photos to work with since many of them are 60 seconds or more. A luxury I don't often have is a second body. Since I knew there was a chance this might be one of the more epic locations in these conditions I brought along the alpha camera in the household, my wife's trusty Canon 5D Mark III. This extra gear meant I was now able to capture multiple shots and compositions while the long exposures exposed.
Be sure to shoot in raw. Even if you prefer to use clean JPG files most of the time, capturing raw files can be the difference between a usable exposure and a throwaway missed shot. I call this one "The Ugly Duckling."
After the awesome sunrise, extreme cold, and adrenalin rush from the experience, it was back to the family for some more fun time. We checked out the Bird Kingdom just down the road and I got some more great shots like this amazing red-eyed bird:
Needless to say Niagara Falls is an unbelievable display of nature's power that's well worth the visit. And there is a ton of fun stuff to do in the area. Just remember to bring gloves! I hope you'll come back next week for Part Three from a much warmer and relaxing beach in Cape Cod, and in case you missed it, here is Part One of this series.
Here are some more shots from the morning and day:
Since Niagara Falls is probably one of the more photographed locations on Earth, I'd love to see your shots. Please feel free to share a link or upload your favorite in the comments.