Capturing a winter sunrise over the mighty Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for some time now. That being said, pulling off this shot is easier said than done. There are a multitude of challenges, obstacles and variables that come into play. The biggest of which is my illness. Ulcerative Colitis has ruled my life for over 20 years. I simply can't wake up, jump out of bed and leave the house. I need at least two hours each and every morning just to calm my stomach down before I can even attempt to leave the house. Factor in my travel/hike/set up time and you start to get a clearer picture of how early I need to wake up to pull off a sunrise shot like this. To give you a better understanding of how I planned for this particular shot, here are the main things that I needed to consider:
Sunrise (7:10am), Travel time to Niagara Falls - 2 hours and 10 minutes (in good weather / traffic) & Time needed to calm down stomach - 2 hours
Once I had the basics nailed down, it was time to start crunching numbers. I started with the sunrise time and worked my way backward, subtracting the known variables. i.e. 7:10am sunrise - 2hrs travel - 2 hrs stomach = 3:10am (tentative wake up time). I then checked the weather report and noticed that there was freezing fog forecast for the morning. I knew that this would slow me down and there could be possible traffic delays, so I adjusted things by 30 minutes. New wake up time = 2:40am. Lastly, I factored in the hike from the truck / camera set up time and I was looking at a finalized 2:20am wake up call. If any one of the aforementioned variables were to get thrown off by even a few minutes, my chance at a sunrise capture could be compromised. Not as easy as it first may have seemed, right?
I also knew that I was taking a huge risk heading down there in overcast conditions, especially with little chance of clearing before sunrise. I did a lot of back & forth pacing/weighing out the odds before finally making the decision to go with my gut and chance it. I almost turned around 10 min into my drive though as the freezing fog was much worse than expected. Luckily conditions improved shortly thereafter, so I continued on my way. I periodically rolled down the window to see if there was any sign of stars, but unfortunately conditions didn't look very hopeful. It wasn't until I was 20 minutes away from my destination, that a slice of clear sky began to appear in the distance. I arrived with only minutes to spare before the sun was scheduled to break over the horizon. I had to fight to get a spot amongst 40 or so other photographers who must have all had the same idea as I did.
Due to the congestion of people, I wasn't able to compose the scene exactly as I had hoped, but I worked with what I had. A bank of gorgeous altocumulus clouds rolled in just in time for sunrise, which added some bonus "spice" to the shots. Cloud formations like this are often referred to as "Mackerel Sky" due to their resemblance of the markings on an adult king Mackerel fish.
My end goal was to capture the Horseshoe Falls, move onto the American Falls and finish off with some detail shots of the ice formations. I managed to quickly pull off most of the shots I had envisioned, but wished the conditions had held up a little longer. About 45 minutes after sunrise, things abruptly changed. The sky became extremely overcast and a thick low lying fog rolled in. Both falls had all but vanished and the once beautiful sky became monotone grey. Anyone who arrived at this point was super disappointed and wished that they had just stayed in bed. I guess it just goes to show you how quickly conditions can change in this line of work.
In the end, I came away with some great new scenics and got to witness a truly amazing sunrise over one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world.