Sunrise at Sunset Beach, NC

I reside in the deep Appalachian woods, but was born and raised near the coast. My wife and I were visiting family last week, and I decided to slip away early Thanksgiving morning to shoot the sunrise at Sunset Beach. The sunsets there are okay, but (ironically) the sunrises are best. I had the beach mostly to myself just as the soft peach light of the rising sun was penetrating the sleepy blue clouds over the ocean. I often find beach scenes difficult. For a successful landscape image several elements have to come together. Primarily, I need a foreground, middle ground, background, and great light. I could tell the light was going to be awesome, but I needed more than good light, sand, and ocean for a dynamic image. A fishing pier always provides an interesting and graphic element. I only tried a few different compositions, always including the pier sweeping in at the top left so that the sun could be included at the horizon. I made dozens and dozens of exposures at various shutter speeds in order to capture just the right wave and just the right amount of drama (For the Gear Heads out there: I used my full frame Nikon camera and 18-35G on my trusty Gitzo tripod and no filters). Sometimes, the waves came in hard and fast and soaked me up to my knees; other times, they never came up to me at all. One has no control over nature. I stuck with it until the end.

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina

The Three Stages of Sunrise

Every sunrise has three stages (see images below). So, every sunrise shoot can give three dramatically different results. Stage 1 occurs just before the sun comes up. The light is often soft and muted. The color temperature can very, but generally pastel colors are the norm. During Stage 2 the sun peaks partially to half-way over the horizon. The light is often most dramatic and colorful at this stage. By using a narrow aperture (I used f/22) one can create a very striking "sun star." This stage is also when clouds are typically rimmed with pinkish or purplish light. Stage 3 is when the sun is completely over the horizon. The color shifts from a mix of cool tones and bold vibrant warm tones to more yellowish and golden hues. The subtle purples and pinks that rim the clouds now become golden as the sky turns daylight blue. I managed to capture all three stages at Sunset Beach on Thanksgiving Day.   Note: Each image is edited independently to stand on its own; therefore, white balance may be inconsistent in the series. I edit RAW images so that they convey not only what I remember, but also the feel of the scene. No color manipulations have been made other than light white balance adjustments and conservative saturation boosts.

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 1

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 1

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 2

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 2

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 3

Sunrise on Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Stage 3

A Little Something Extra To Be Thankful For

I got a nice surprise at the end of my sunrise shoot. I was actually walking back up the beach to my car when I turned to take one last look at the ocean. I only come here once or twice a year, so I wanted to soak it up. To my delight, the sun had broken through the clouds sending beautifully distinct shafts of light down onto the shimmering sea. These crepuscular rays (also known as "God Beams") are always fun to photograph. I grabbed my other camera and 70-200mm lens from my bag and started firing away. The rays were great, but my shots lacked an element. Then, I noticed a queue of pelicans flying just off shore and heading my way. They were going to fly right into the sun beams! Perfect. I snapped several shots as the birds passed through the light rays just over the ocean; it was one of those rare, serendipitous moments. The conditions were just right and everything came together where I happened to be standing. I'm thankful for this shot and that I am able to do what I love and love what I do. 

Pelicans Flying over the Atlantic through God Beams, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Pelicans Flying over the Atlantic through God Beams, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

(c) 2016 Jon Reaves Photography. All rights reserved.