Up Before The Dawn

Saturday night the forecast for the following morning looked good for some sunrise shots. As difficult as it is to get a good sunset, I find sunrises even more difficult for some reason. Perhaps because the air is a bit different just before dawn compared to just after sunset – cooler, drier, less haze. Also, I am just not out and about at sunrise as often as I am at sunset.

Sunrise arrived at 7:24 so, I didn’t have to be out of bed ridiculously early to get downtown, but I was up by 6:00. It takes me about half an hour or so to drive downtown, park, and hike to a spot, so I was getting set up on location by a little after 6:45. My location was the pedestrian bridge which overlooks downtown Austin over Lady Bird Lake with the eastern sky in the background.

The first shot that I took that I thought was a keeper is below. The eastern sky glows on the horizon, but it is still dark enough to get lights from the buildings on the skyline. It is so much nicer now that major construction has been completed on the tall building just to the left of center.

Downtown Austin Texas and Lady Bird Lake at dawn
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm, f/4; 16mm, f/8, 3s, ISO100

When it is still mostly dark, I can get long enough exposures without a filter to get a somewhat smoothed out lake for some nice reflections of the clouds. Though there was barely a breeze and the lake was very calm. I did a mild transformation in Lightroom to stand the buildings up straight as the wide angle shot had them leaning back a little.

I walked up and down the bridge for a bit, trying to find the best location (and waiting for a long train to go by). I was surprised by the near total lack of other photographers. I have been in this location for sunrise in the past and met several other photographers setting up tripods and shooting pictures, but it was mostly just me on this morning.

The clouds did eventually get a little pink and orange in them, as shown below, but it was very subtle and not spectacular. The sun is about to rise just under the railroad bridge from my perspective.

Downtown Austin Texas and Lady Bird Lake at dawn
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm, f/4; 16mm, f/8, 1/50s, ISO100

The water was not nearly as smooth thanks to a noisy flock of ducks that came down the river skimming the top of the water.

I did put on the 10-stop ND filter and do a long exposure to get some cloud movement and smooth out the water. This turned out well and may be my favorite shot of the morning.

Long exposure of Austin Texas at dawn
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm, f/4; 16mm, f/13, 30s, ISO100

I struggle with getting the exposure correct in long exposures near dawn or sunset. The light is quickly changing and I am always concerned that my calculation will be wrong and I will over-expose. So, the above image was probably under-exposed by a stop. But, a nice thing about the Nikon D750 is that there is more than 2 stops of exposure that can be pulled up in post without bringing in noticeable noise. So, the above image was brought up quite a bit (+1.52).

With the sun rising in the sky, I thought that it might look nice reflecting off of the buildings, so I hiked to a hill more to the south of downtown and set up. This was not the spectacular light show that I have envisioned, but I took time to practice a few shots anyway. Perhaps if I had moved farther east I would have gotten better reflections off the buildings.

Downtown Austin Texas at sunrise
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm, f/4; 16mm, f/13, 1/25s, ISO100

I also took the time to practice a panorama.

  • I took the time to get the tripod and camera nice and level.
  • I set up the proper exposure in manual mode, so I didn’t get any strange shading from image to image.
  • I used an aperture of f/8 to minimize lens vignetting which is more pronounced at wider apertures.
  • I set focus, and locked the lens to manual focus so it wouldn’t try to adjust between shots.
  • I set the trigger to remote to I could avoid shaking the camera.
  • I then rotated the tripod head through 8 photos, to avoid touching the camera.

Click to enlarge the panorama below.

Panorama of downtown Austin Texas at dawn
Nikon D750 + 16-35mm, f/4; 35mm, f/8, 1/100s, ISO100 (x8)

I stitched this in Lightroom and immediately noticed that I came close to clipping the tallest building. I probably should have composed more sky and less park in the foreground. I thought at the time that all of the greenery would look nice, but in hindsight I wish I had more sky and clouds, though there is a lot of sunlight beginning to spread across the park. Perhaps I should have oriented the camera in portrait mode to get a taller panorama and had both. I was also being mindful of some people shooting wedding photos behind me and trying not get in their way.

The exposure is constant across all eight images, which I think looks right when viewing. There is no evidence of different shading at the seams as I have seen in previous panoramas that I have done. I think that it turned out quite well.

Before getting back to the car, I wanted to try to do something with a pond and some tall weeds. I thought that I might try some focus stacking and work with the reflections in the pond. Also, the clouds were beginning to drop down and cover the tops of the buildings.

Downtown Austin Texas at sunrise
Nikon D750 + 24-120mm, f/4; 32mm, f/11 1/200s, ISO100

I didn’t like the cars parked across the pond and so I didn’t put a lot of effort into this composition. I think that it could work without all of those cars, but I can’t close the parking lot. Maybe I’ll come back to this.

I do love a good early Sunday morning like this. I can park where I need to park. There are no crowds about. I mostly have the place to myself and can enjoy some solitude with my camera. A nice way to start the day.

Thanks for reading. Please comment and tell me what you think.




7 thoughts on “Up Before The Dawn

  1. Absolutely agree with you on preference for sunsets before sunrise. As I prefer actually the blue hour, after sunset light lasts longer than pre sunrise one, last not least waking up at silly early hours is also a point, admittedly 😁.
    Congrats for a great photo report 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The thing that I like about sunrise is that there are so few people out and about. I feel like I am doing something that few people know about. The only difficult part is getting out of bed. Once my shoes are on, I am happy.


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