Early Morning Photo Opportunities


Most photographers will tell you the best light is early in the morning and late in the afternoon.   Everyone has seen the golden glow near sunset so they understand the benefit of late afternoon light.  But early morning light is another thing altogether. For those of you who do not typically get up early, I have made a list of the types of photo opportunities that are sought after this time of day.


1.    Sunrise


While this the obvious one, some of the photo ops are not so obvious.  That big red ball in the sky and the beams of light that extend from it provide endless opportunities for unique compositions.  Photograph something in front of the sun for an interesting silhouette.  Position the sun behind something to give it a glow.  Or photograph the reflection or the sunbeam as it approaches the right spot in your composition.


2.   Moon


When the moon is full, it generally sets around the same time the sun rises.  This gives you an opportunity to photograph the full moon just above the horizon.  You can use it for several types of interesting compositions including silhouettes, moonbeams and reflections.


3.   Landscapes


Many types of landscapes look best in the early morning light, especially if they face east.  As the sun rises and lights up the landscape, it puts a golden glow on everything and casts very long shadows.  Catching the light at just the right point has become a quest for some, especially at famous sites.  In Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, for example, photographers are lined up before sunrise at the Beaver Pond, Mormon Barn and Oxbow Bend to capture the ‘best’ picture of these sites possible.


4.   Fog


In many places the cooler night temperatures create ground fog that burns off as the sun rises.  So the only time you typically get to include fog in your pictures is the early morning.  The photo ops are created as things disappear from site and then reappear as if floating in air.  Or maybe the fog is rolling over the hills or water.  Boats and lights on the water can make very interesting compositions when you add a little fog.


5.   Street Scenes


It is interesting to watch a city wake up. In many places, traffic is light enough that you can walk down the middle of the street for a different perspective.  Deliveries are being made.  Chores are being done.  Kids are starting to walk or ride to school.  Roadside vendors are pouring the first cups of coffee and offering quick bites of food for busy people.  Many of these activities are only done in the early morning.  Others are best photographed at this time of day to avoid crowds and harsh light.


6.   Morning Markets


Many places in the world still have very active markets where fresh produce and meat is sold.  The people who shop at these markets usually go first thing in the morning when everything is fresh and not picked over.  The photo ops at a market are usually the people and the interaction of the people so you need to be there when the shoppers are.  Watch the vendors weigh their wares with a variety of scales.  See what they use to count and write with.  Photograph the heavy carts being pushed and pulled by hand.  Catch the money exchange as someone buys produce.


7.   River Life


River life starts early in the morning.  Fishermen are among the first ones out as they tend to nets and lines.  Goods are loaded onto boats and people are ferried from one place to another.  And in many parts of the world, people are washing clothes and bathing too.  Catching these scenes in early morning light will make your photos even better.  You will still see some of these activities later in the day but the light will be harsh then and the photos won’t be near as appealing.


8.   Hot Air Balloons


Hot air balloon flights are almost always conducted first thing in the morning.  They take off at or before sunrise when the wind is calm.  This allows you to watch the sun rise over your flight path. From this aerial platform you can photograph the sites on the ground as the sun lights them up and casts incredibly long shadows over the landscape.  Other balloons in the sky look great too as the morning light hits the side of each balloon.


9.   Wildlife


Many types of wildlife are easiest to find and photograph early in the morning.  That is the time of day they feed and/or drink so their behavior is more predictable.  You have a much better chance of spotting certain types of wildlife at the water’s edge, where they are easier to photograph, early in the morning.  Other types of wildlife hunt or forage in the early morning when it is cool.  Most wildlife safaris take you out early in the morning and then again late in the afternoon.  The sights will not be the same, however, as each animal has adopted different habits for survival.


10.   Architecture


Monuments, palaces, forts, office buildings, homes and stores are just a few examples of architectural shots that can look better in the early morning light if the light is coming from the right direction.  Early morning provides several other advantages too.  Traffic is lighter so there are less chances of cars and trucks in your picture.  And there are fewer people to block your shot as well.  Some attractions draw such huge crowds that the only time of day to get a clean shot is early in the morning before they get there.


I hope to see you soon early some morning.  In the meantime, may your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


   Roger Nelson