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The Wee Hours

Updated: Mar 10, 2019

For the last 20 years I've worked retail or in the service industry. So while I've mostly have had Thanksgiving Day off I can count on one hand how many times I've been off the day after Thanksgiving. Referred to as an informal holiday called "Black Friday." Black Friday fell on November 23rd this year. So, I decided it was a photography project day. I remembered, someone had mentioned that Sun would be rising directly from behind the Sunshine Skyway Bridge sometime in November. After doing some quick research on the day before Thanksgiving I found out I was in luck. That day was falling on Black Friday.

I used an app called PhotoPills to help me plan out where and when I needed to be. I included some screen shots from the app below. In order for this to work I needed to be at Fort DeSoto Park along the beach on the East side of the park at 6am. The sun was due to rise at 6:56 AM.

So I posted on Facebook my plans and wanted to see if there would be any other brave souls. Turns out there was a group of photographers from the Florida Center of Creative Photography that had already plotted and planned a sunrise adventure. Led by their moderator Jeff Donald.

A little disappointed I hadn't thought of it first, but grateful that I wouldn't be the only one.  I asked to join their merry band via and was given a spot. I and about 35 other photographers marched out into the wee hours of the morning. Of course it was dark, cold and windy and I forgot my chair.

The early morning fog was hanging about the bridge and I wasn't sure I was going to see the sun at all. Still the fog gave an eerie quality in the Nautical Twilight. Nautical Twilight is the time when sky first becomes a deep rich blue as the light from the Sun bends it's way over the curvature of the Earth. The light from top of the bridge was obscured by the morning fog but shinning through.

Photographer Thought Process - The image above was taken with in just a few minutes before the blue hour. After arriving a 6am I spent most of my time settling up my equipment. Once that was completed I worked on my initial composition. I then began thinking about the initial exposure. I chose an ISO of 1600 In order to get some wiggle room on exposure choices. Even there I had to open the aperture f/2.8 to let some light in. Still, I wanted some wiggle room for working with the shutter because I wanted shoot long exposures. Since I was using a tripod/gimbal set up I wasn't worried about camera shake. However, there were strong gusts of wind that morning. Although my set up is stable enough for most situations, the camera was picking up tiny vibrations from the wind gusts. I ended up dialing the shutter down to 1 second reducing the vibrations to a minimum. The exposure was a bit too far to the left on the histogram (under exposed), but since I was shooting in RAW I knew I could readjust later in post processing if needed.

As we got closer to 6:56 AM the clouds had parted and the Sun peaked it's lovely head out. Of course I was in the wrong spot. So after a quick walk down the beach I found my spot.

Photographer Thought Process - This was taken a few minutes after the sun rose. I immediately closed down the aperture to keep the light from the sun from washing out. I also increased the ISO 3200. to get a faster shutter speed to prevent motion blur from the sun.

I had forgotten that Sun's arc would keep moving to the right. I had to move again to keep the sun between the main cables of the bridge. Of course without blocking the other 35 shooters.

Photographer Thought Process - Taken five minutes later the sun has already climbed to the bridge span. I kept an eye on the light meter so I didn't got too far over or under on the exposure. I had close my aperture down to keep from washing the sun out as the higher it climbed.

Over all I was happy with results and I got a few keepers as result. The final image I shot was when I heading back to the car. When I looked back the light was amazing as the sun was burning off the fog.

Photographer Thought Process - I quickly put my tripod down. Working the compositing with a modified rules of thirds I began to change my exposure settings. The sun has been climbing for about 23 minutes and I was still in the golden hour. I had a lot of light to play with so I changed my ISO to 100. After that I chose a  fast shutter speed 1/4000. With those two variables locked in I choose an f-stop that would under expose the image. Based on the light meter I picked f/4.5. I hind sight I should've closed it a bit more. The sun in the image is still a bit washed out, but it's still a very acceptable image for me.

Probably was one of the most fun Black Fridays I've had in a long time.

Equipment used: Nikon D610, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2, PRO Master Gimbal GH25 and mounted on the Globetrotter tripod from MeFoto.

Images edited with Lightroom Classic and Aurora HDR 2019.

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