Bugsy Sailor had an ambitious plan for 2019. He had a seven-year personal tradition of shooting the first sunrise every year on New Year's Day, but this year, he had a grand scheme to photograph every single sunrise of the year 2019.
He told very few people of his plan for the entire month of January, worrying that he might not be able to follow through with the task. Sailor is the founder of the Marquette-based apparel company U.P. Supply Co. and self-proclaimed "Ambassador of the Upper Peninsula." He considers himself more of a content creator than a photographer or filmmaker, although after this project, he says: "I feel more of a photographer now than I have ever felt."
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (referred to as the U.P. by locals) is a northern and somewhat remote region of Michigan that has its own unique culture and weather that is often brutal in the winter. Sailor says that the coldest morning of the year was January 31st, with a temperature of -9ºF/-22.7ºC (-32ºF/-35.5ºC windchill) along the shore of Lake Superior.
He kept his plan quiet for the first month, using that time to build the website (Year of the Sunrise), which he launched on January 31st to showcase the first 31 images and announce publicly that he was on this mission. The fantastic website not only displays the sunrise photos, but also includes stats about the location, time, weather, photo exposure details, and various musings about the day.
What started off as a "ridiculous commitment" quickly became his lifestyle. "I would be driving to a sunrise location and thinking 'Why, why? What a terrible idea this is.' However, there isn't one morning I regret," Sailor recalls.
The Equipment Bugsy Used
This project was shot entirely on a Canon 1D Mark III (he calls her Delilah), and the majority of photos were taken with a Canon EF 17–35mm and Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. Sailor admits that the camera wasn't the perfect camera for landscape photos, as he had purchased it from a friend when dreaming of becoming a skateboard or snowboard photographer, where the high frame rate would be useful. The camera's weatherproofing did come in handy when shooting in sideways rain and snow, though.
Sailor was no stranger to problems though. There were a couple of mornings early on where he got to the sunrise location, only to discover a dead camera battery. Thankfully, those times, he was close to home and was able to run home and charge the battery for a few minutes.
"Once, I got to my sunrise location, grabbed my camera, and the battery wasn't even in the camera; it was still home in the charger. So, there was more human error than equipment failure," he says.
On the 364th day of the year, disaster almost struck. Two hours after returning from sunrise, Sailor was sitting in his living room, Delilah was untouched and turned off. From the other side of the room, out of nowhere, he heard a sound, Delilah was opening and closing the shutter entirely on her own, while turned off.
Fortunately, after finding a little water in the battery compartment and letting everything dry out, the camera returned to normal working condition by evening.
His Favorite Image of the Year
I asked Sailor if he had a favorite image of the year. He replied: "I have to say January 1, 2019 was my favorite. Not only did it kick off this project, but it was an incredible double rainbow moment."
Lessons He Learned
Sailor would like to remind everyone that: "a -32º morning properly dressed is always better than a +32º morning not properly dressed." He also stated: "Before this project, I did not know that it's a tiny aperture that produces a sunburst effect. Once I learned that, there were a lot more photos taken at f/22!" This just goes to show that there's always something new to learn.
This wasn't just about photography, he quickly learned that his project was much more than just documenting the sunrise every day; he found that it had become a meditation and a spiritual time for him.
The Last Sunrise of the Year
Most of the project was spent in great solitude, but for the last sunrise of the year, Sailor made a public event and invited the community of Marquette to join him. Over 50 people showed up at his event. "It was odd having 50 people join me at sunrise, but it was a wonderful ending, and I loved it," Sailor writes on Day 365. It was a fitting location along Lake Superior with the iconic Marquette lighthouse in view.
Oddly, it felt like the passing of a loved one or saying goodbye to someone you love and not knowing if and when you'll see them again. Even though the sun will rise tomorrow and Superior will still be there, it was a passing of something. Superior can't speak, and if she could, I think we shared a moment, a tipping of the hat to each other.
Sailor remarks that he never considered giving up, but that "[his] biggest fear was something ending the streak that was out of my control."
I've always admired people that can do a 365-day project. The dedication it takes is quite impressive. However, for someone who isn't a full-time photographer, a 365-day photo project is even more inspiring.
Sometimes, a project is more about what you learn along the way than the final product. Bugsy Sailor started this project with a few goals in mind: he wanted to use his camera more often, spend more time in nature, and he wanted to deepen his relationship with Lake Superior. What he ended up with was much more valuable than the photos themselves. Be sure to check out his website, Year of the Sunrise.
All photos by Bugsy Sailor, used with permission.