• Sam Wilson

Planning A Sunrise Shoot

What’s In The Bag & Boot

Heading out in the dark at stupid o’clock has taught me be prepared (and of course take coffee) if nothing else.

Arriving at MacMasters Beach just before first light

If only it were as simple as choosing a location and expecting to get the perfect shot! It really doesn’t work like that, and even with the most careful planning it can take multiple trips to the same spot before you achieve an image that you are happy with.

My late hubby had a saying that he quoted regularly, and I still hear him saying that whenever I’m planning anything - whether that’s a shoot, a trip or a tour.

A quick google search reveals this is a slightly paraphrased version of a British Military adage, but good advice nevertheless


Aus Weather - general weather conditions

Willy Weather - General weather, tides and swell

Clear Outside - clouds and fog. This is a great free app but totally not something to be relied on Photo Ephemeris - times and direction of the sun and moon. This is a great resource that I use regularly. The desktop version is free, but there is an expense for the mobile app.

Google Maps - times and directions. How many of you still remember old paper and book maps. There’s no way I could do what I do without the new technology

1 - Clear Outside, 2 - Willy Weather, 3 - The Photographers Ephemeris

“And after all that - get up and get out anyway. None of the above are 100% accurate!”

All the apps predicted zero clouds for this morning, just as an example that the apps can't be trusted

Things to consider prior to heading out -

  • Location, location, location (sorry is that an old real estate ad?). Where you actually want to shoot on the day. Sometimes I decide this based on somewhere I haven’t been, or just a whim that a spot may pop into my head. I will however check the above apps to see whether it’s safe or all the conditions are going to align.

  • As an aside, I also often get inspiration from Instagram or Facebook. This is not to say to copy anything, but it can provide nice inspiration or a reminder for a particular location

Instagram Waterfall Inspiration (my favourite type of photography)

  • Times - This is the big one to get you at the right place at the right time and include the following (at least for me).

  • First light, sunrise.

  • Drive to Location

  • Walk from the car to where you want to photograph. Sometimes this is only a couple of minutes, while others it can be quite considerable. Trust me there’s nothing worse than walking in and the sky is already lighting up with colour. You can always have a nanna nap in the afternoon, so it’s worth getting up that extra half an hour early.

‘worst case scenario is you have a few minutes to chill with your coffee and enjoy the view’

  • Typically I like to be in place around 30 minutes before first light is forecast. I’ve lost count of the times that those early photos are the best from the shoot.

  • Tides and Swell

  • Wake up time to set alarm - for me that’s at least 30 minutes before I have to leave, you know, Coffee

Ellenborough Falls - this was the second attempt to photograph this location - 700km in a day the first time and we couldn’t get there because of road closures

Up until now, I’ve just written these on a post it note each time but I’ve just created a digital checklist to help with this so i don’t miss anything. Let me know if you’d like a copy or if you think I’ve just gone too far lol

This is also useful for me to send to those that I’m going out with so everyone knows what the plan is - sharing is caring!

In The Bag

This I have pre-packed, but I do still check everything is in order the night before heading out.

  • Here I will state the obvious - camera and lenses. I say lenses as I generally carry 3 - a wide angle, a mid range, plus a telephoto. Experience has shown me that if I leave one behind, it’s guaranteed I’ll need it! I usually use at least 2 on each shoot and sometimes all 3.

  • Filters. I’m a bit lazy in using these but they include a polariser, graduated density and neutral density filters. Polarisers are an essential for waterfalls in my opinion. More about this in another upcoming post.

  • Torch/Headlamp - I’m now in the habit of putting this in my pocket before I leave the house because I use it walking into EVERY shoot.

  • Spare batteries and memory cards - usually 2 of each in case of failure (and make sure to periodically rotate and recharge said batteries just in case).

  • Various cleaning cloths and hand sanitiser. These days I also have a mask just in case the rules change overnight as they have in the past.

You just never know when a mask will come in handy!

  • First Aid - yes, I should probably take this more seriously, but for now it consists of antiseptic wipes, bandaids in various sizes and Panadol

  • Critters - always have Aeroguard and salt on hand for those nasties

  • Allan keys if needed for tripod or L-Bracket

  • Snack - usually just a muesli bar because breakfast can be a while away

  • Water

  • COFFEE!!! Ok, this doesn’t actually go in the bag, but I definitely don’t leave the house without one in my hand.

  • Cabernet - not really, just checking if you’re reading lol

In The Car

This is also a constant - everything lives in a plastic tub in the boot that I periodically check to make sure everything is covered.

  • Tripod

  • Rock Shoes - these have probably been the best $50 investment for when shooting seascapes on the rockshelves - just so much safer

You can get drenched with just one rogue wave!

  • Wet Weather Gear - jacket, umbrella

  • Spare shoes and jacket - at least if you get soaked you can at least get dry feet and jacket to get semi-warm again

  • Towel

You never know when something might be handy if you have a boring foreground


I hope you’ve found this little guide useful. I’ve actually surprised myself with how much planning goes into a shoot now that I’ve sat down and documented it all.

I believe I’ve now deserved a cabernet to unwind - cheers!

That’s it for now

Next up is Part 2 of "Love Your Local" where I showcase some of the stunning locations I live near, join here to see more of the stunning Central Coast if you haven't already subscribed.

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