Photo Story: The Botany Bay Sunrise

Posted By Jason Barnette on September 17, 2015

Every photo tells a story. Sometimes that story begins before the photo is captured. This is the tale of my adventure to capture a glorious sunrise photo at Botany Bay Plantation.

First of all, to say I am not a morning person is an understatement. A big one. I think anything before noon should be illegal. That also makes it very difficult for me as a photographer since I often miss the first half of the day before I even roll out of bed. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a lazy person. I can stay up until 4 a.m. any night of the week working away on photos. Just don't try to wake me up at 4 a.m.

Every once in awhile I have enough will power to force myself out of bed early enough to catch a sunrise and the first two hours of the day's light. It's not easy, but I can do it. I was spending a few days in Charleston, South Carolina shooting photos for next years state-wide visitor's guide. I needed to drive down to Edisto Beach for the day. I figured since I would already be in the neighborhood I might as well try to capture a great sunrise at Botany Bay Plantation.

This is where the story begins, and where things get interesting. First of all, Botany Bay Plantation is a former rice plantation now open to the public seven days a week. However, the front gate does not open until one hour before sunrise each day. You may think an hour is plenty of time, but it's not. It's really not.

I began the morning an hour away in Charleston. It was dark when I went to sleep, it was dark when I woke up. Yuck. But I managed to roll out of bed on time and get out the door just a few minutes late. Everything was going great, heading down the dark road with my hot coffee, until my low fuel light flickered to life. Doh! I pulled into the first gas station I saw, only to realize they weren't even open yet. The coffee had yet to work, or I would have noticed the complete lack of lights before I made the turn. A few minutes down the road and I found another gas station, this one very much open for business.

But the card reader wouldn't work at the pump. Rather than try to move to another pump I decided to just walk inside and pay there. But three customers and fifteen minutes later I really wish I had just moved the car. Finally with a tank full of gas I barrelled down the road toward Botany Bay.

I arrived at the front gate just thirty minutes before sunrise. You may think thirty minutes is still plenty of time, but it's not. It's really, really not. I quickly filled out the required information card, slipped it into the box, and sped off down the dirty road. The sky was a bright blue at this point, and I could see the beginnings of color on the horizon. I was gonna be late. It is precisely two miles from the front gate to the parking area where you walk out to the beach. Those two miles are along a rough, bumpy dirt road that shouldn't be driven on at more than ten miles per hour. I was pushing thirty.

By the time I made it to the parking lot the sky was fully lit and I had just twenty minutes until sunrise. Let me tell you a not-so-secret tip about sunrise photography: you usually get the best colors about 10-20 minutes before the sunrise. I was gonna be late. Thankfully I prefer to pack my gear the night before a photo shoot, customizing my bag for whatever I need first. I grabbed the bag and set off running down the path.

Yes, I had to run. Not because I was already ridiculously late, but because the parking lot isn't exactly right next to the beach. No, in fact you have to walk about 3/4-mile from the parking lot before you arrive at the beach, and it was another quarter mile to find the scene you see above. I ran the entire way with my thirty-pound backpack in flip flops that really needed to be tennis shoes but I didn't have the time to change.

When I arrived at the scene pictured above the sun had just come up over the horizon. I had already missed some brilliant pinks in the sky just minutes before, but it wasn't a complete loss. It took me less than two minutes to set up the tripod, attach the camera, select the correct lens, dial in the camera settings, and capture this photo. That comes from years of practice, and the fact my first photography job involved shooting college sports. This was my first photo of the day, and it was just as stunning as if I had meticulously planned this shot for weeks and arrived at the scene an hour early.

Which, of course, is the ideal situation. But sometimes you just gotta wing it and hope for the best. This was certainly the best.

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