I am not a morning person. The early bird can take as many worms as it would like, and I wouldn’t care. Which is why, this blog title is special. There has to be something special about the location or situation that forced me to roll out of bed, get ready, put on clothes, grab the camera bag, and walk out in the dark before most souls could take their first sip of coffee. In the summer, this tends to happen at an unearthly 4.30 am, and in the winter its at a more reasonable yet bitterly cold 5.30 or 6.00 am.
And that special reason happens to be – solitude. Because guess what – not many birds care about the worm either. Which means, that typically overcrowded and bustling locations take on an ethereal zen-like feel where you are the only, or one of the few, soaking in the immersive experience of the entire location.
St. Mark’s Square, Venice
The fascination started back in 2013, when on a visit to Venice, it was near impossible to photograph the canals and the gondolas without people on them or without the water splashing all over because of the traffic on the canals. Where was the peace and quiet? It was like Disneyland on Christmas Day. Since our hotel was barely a 2 minute walk from the square, I decided to hop out of bed at 4:30 am and quietly leave with Rachna and the kids still snoring away. And boy was I rewarded. I was the only one in St. Mark’s Square. I was the only one at the Gondola stand (above). I stood there and had the whole place to myself, for almost an hour, when finally the local shop-owners, cleaners, joggers, and some tourists finally started filling up the scene.
The Venice experience started a trend, where I would book at least one night close to a busy attraction, and sneak out of bed early to get the photography bug bitten. Summers were difficult to handle because we ended up sleeping quite late. Dinners at 10:30-11:00, hitting the sack by about 1am and getting up by 4.00-4.30 was a challenge. Even so, sometimes the locals would even beat me to the punch. At a heavily crowded Dubrovnik old town, the only way to get photographs like the above was to get out of bed by 4am. But as you can probably see, the street cleaners had just finished washing the cobbled streets. Starting at what seemed like 3:30 am!
At other times, things got relatively easier. This incredible view of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion was literally outside our doorstep. One did have to put on pants and get a tripod set up so a long exposure could be taken. The location, hotel, and stay were planned before-hand – numerous Google Street View searches, 500px, Trip Advisor searches made this happen.
Contrast that to the view above in Casablanca, which was a complete surprise. We did not plan for it, and were lucky enough to get a hotel with a room on the highest floor facing the Hassan II mosque, on our first night in Morocco. The main window of the room faced south, but there was a tiny sliver of a window right above the headboard that had this magnificent view. The morning Adhan, in the month of Ramadan, woke us up bright and early, helping us to stay in the room and capture this golden glow hitting the white city.
And sometimes, I had company. For this 5 am stroll through the empty streets of Bologna with its leaning towers, my 10 year old was the eager helper. Helping me set up the tripod, helping change lenses, helping figure out panorama shots on the Fuji X (yep, these were tall enough not to fit into a singular 24mm view), while constantly chatting about the latest NVIDIA GPUs and their rendering pros and cons for shaders in Minecraft, this was a pleasant walk.
Mont St. Michel, France
Sometimes, that company ditched, and the resolve had to be stronger to walk out and photograph. Especially when that company was a companion photographer. Too early, too tired, too this, too that. Excuses. You know who you are – I am sure you are reading. Well, your loss, as I exclaimed back then as well. This duotone view of Mont St. Michel in an almost Bleu de France would be impossible to photograph in the evening blue hour with the constant bus and foot traffic on this bridge I was standing on.
Other times, it got really painful. Inching closer to the Japanese Alps in the middle of winter, the crow castle of Matsumoto was high on our list to visit. But knowing that walking to the spot early morning would be a challenge, we picked the closest hotel possible with a 3 min walk to the castle. With sub-zero temperatures, waking up was next to impossible and I almost gave up. Trudging outside, fully covered tip to tip, the chill was still hitting the bone – especially because of the large body of water around the castle. But capturing the view against the Alps, and hearing the thousands of crows that reside on the palace grounds, all wake up in unison at sunrise creating the loudest bird cacophony I have every experienced, was an unforgettable moment.
Prague, Czech Republic
And for some other moments, it was painful and yet busy. Capturing this silhouette of Prague from the Charles Bridge at sunrise is on every photographer’s bucket list. When it was still dark, there was maybe one more photographer, and some street cleaners, but by the time the sunlight started to break out, by about 5am, the bridge had a healthy crowd of tripod-stationed crouching individuals clicking away furiously. And unlike non-photographer tourists, who would move around and disappear on a long exposure, these folks, my folks, stood still next to their tripod – unwavering, unflinching, guarding their precious images. I am sure my backside is preserved until eternity in someone else’s frame from behind me.