Year of the Sunrise: Michigan Photographer Captures Every Sunrise of 2019

Year of the Sunrise: Michigan Photographer Captures Every Sunrise of 2019

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.

January 29, 2019 - Presque Isle, Marquette, MI - Photo by Bugsy Sailor

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.

'Are you kidding me?!' I thought, 'This is happening now? With literally one day to go?'

Fortunately, after finding a little water in the battery compartment and letting everything dry out, the camera returned to normal working condition by evening.

June 4, 2019 - Picnic Rocks, Marquette, MI - Photo by Bugsy Sailor

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."

January 1, 2019 - Whitefish Point, Paradise, MI - Photo by Bugsy Sailor

If I could, I would have been doing cartwheels up and down the beach. It was something I had never seen before, and I often wonder if that morning wasn't so inspiring, would I have been inspired to execute this project? I think the inspiration and energy of that first sunrise stayed in me for a very long time."

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.

When you watch every sunrise, regardless of the weather or seeing the sun, for 365 days, your soul fills up pretty quickly. No matter what challenges the rest of a day may bring, you can always look back to sunrise and appreciate that you took the time to be present in nature and enjoy that moment."

October 16, 2019 - McCarty's Cove, Marquette, MI - Photo by Bugsy Sailor
There isn’t anything we can do about the weather at sunrise. But we can do a lot about where and how we watch it.

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."

Conclusion

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.

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6 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

Wow! Getting up and shooting in -32º weather deserves praise by itself not to mention the beautiful images!

I admire his commitment. Also, he took some fantastic photos.

Timothy Turner's picture

Every morning I thank GOD for another sunrise. And in the evening I ask GOD's forgiveness for my dark moments.

Isn't the Canon 1D Mark III just coming out now?

No, that's the 1DX Mark III, not 1D.

I love this. I get up to shoot about 200 sunrises a year so I can appreciate the drive to see them. I've always liked sunrises because no matter how outrageous your to-do list is for any day, there's no real certainty it can't all be done. At sunset you're looking at what you didn't get done. So I'm a bit more optimistic about the day first thing in the morning.