Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Are you crazy?!"

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Even people who know about our intense passion for hitting the backroads in search of a good photograph still think we’re nuts. “Are you crazy?!” they say in disbelief. While everyone else is turning off their alarm clocks to catch a few more hours of sleep on the weekend, we are turning our alarms to an even earlier time based on the sunrise. We want to be at our first photo stop at the butt-crack of dawn. We start by looking up what time sunrise will be and then we start to count backwards.

“Let’s see”, Joann will say, “if sunrise is at 6:30, and we’re going to Richland County, that’s about an hour and 15 minutes, and we want to be there 45 minutes before sunrise, then we’ll have to leave my house at 4:30.” I say “ok”, and then calculate again – Let’s see, if we have to leave by 4:30, I’ll need to arrive at her house by 4:15 so we can load the car (food, camera equipment, GPS, maps, logs, binoculars, jackets, etc.), then 30 minutes to Joann’s house, plus 30 minutes to get ready. I need to set my alarm for 3:15.

I see a lot of stars and the moon and very little else as I drive between my house and Joann’s. If there are enough stars in the sky, I can tell if the sky has any character. Most days I’m ok with being up that early. Some days, though, one or both of us are dragging, but that doesn’t stop us from going. Last weekend for instance, we were both yawning before we reached Richland County, so we started with Mountain Dew before we hit our first backroad and long before breakfast (since we’re not coffee drinkers). But once we get on the backroads, the excitement of what’s around the next corner keeps us going.

Sometimes we get to the area early, and the first road we drive finds us in front of something to photograph, but there is not enough light in the sky to get a picture. Joann will get out and set up her camera and give it her best try, but sometimes, there she stands in the middle of the road, waiting for a little more light before she can snap the picture. Talk about being eager to photograph!

Sometimes in the 45 minutes before sunrise, we can tell the color will be good. The sky starts with a slight pink glow and the question becomes, “Where can we find a good sunrise silhouette?” That is something that is easier said than done. If we were normal landscape photographers, the answer would be to know of a spot, be there before sunrise, get the camera all set up, and wait.

But since we never know what we’re looking for, finding something at sunrise isn’t easy. Occasionally, we luck out and find a spot that would make a good silhouette, so we park and wait. Other times, Joann drives chasing the sunrise and I just follow along on the map. After the color fades or the sun becomes too high in the sky, we return to our normal method, where I watch the map and select roads to drive based on road names, direction, a half-baked plan, and sometimes, just dumb luck.

If you can’t get back to sleep some morning, go out and catch the sunrise. I hope it’s a good one.

Happy shunpiking!

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