It's ironic because for most of my life I've been a night owl, but I now spend most of my days shooting at dawn. I love falling out of bed when the city is asleep and wandering the empty streets as sunrise breaks over the city. For a good ten years, shooting at daybreak has been the most inspiring impetus for my photography.
One of my favourite reasons is that it is almost totally free of people. I recently took a group on a dawn workshop in Paris. At the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, a beautiful old square that is one of the key spots on the tourist trail, someone remarked: 'Now I understand why you get up at dawn!' The square is usually packed with tourists, and the paraphernalia they attract, it's like being at a concert, trying to squeeze through bodies. But at dawn - it's empty! So you see the square in all of its glory - the old historic buildings, the light falling into the square, and you get a sense of Paris as it used to be.
Many people compare sunrise to sunset, but for both the light is very particular. Where the light at sunset often has a rich, full, opulent feel to it, the light at sunrise is much lighter, fresher, more delicate - often giving an ethereal look to your subject. Seeing that light stream through the crack in a building, fall over the empty streets or break open the sky into intense streams of pinks, yellows, blues, purples, reds and oranges gives me goosebumps, even now.
Beginning my shoot at Blue Hour, an hour before sunrise, is the optimum time. The sky starts out black but gradually, then very rapidly, begins to move to purple-black then blue-black, until it gets bluer and bluer (we say 'bluer' but cyan would be more accurate) as it gets closer to sunrise. You never know when you'll get an 'epic' sunrise, but most of them have something pretty special to offer. That's what will make viewers go 'wow'.
Learn to 'see' anew
In a world saturated by imagery, learning to 'see' an image that other people don't is the great challenge of photography. In the photo world, we call it 'The Art of Seeing'. It could be noticing the tiny nuances of a scene, exploring what's behind/under/above an interesting subject which will enhance the photo you are taking, or following stunning light to its source. The way to train yourself to 'see' is to stop and look at what's around you: don't snap at whatever fleetingly captures your eye. Look up, look around, look down. Perhaps you notice some light on a building - where is it coming from? How about that reflection, what's creating it?
This all sounds simple but it's what most of us forget to do, given how we are trained to just look ahead as we rush to our destination.
Photographing at dawn is a brilliant, yet different, way to help you 'see' your surroundings. It takes you out of your daily life and gives you the same world in a different light.
Take a look at this photo of trees by Shoreditch Station. People are always surprised by this, thinking it a countryside scene because most of us haven't noticed trees next to this inner city station. Given how tall they are, it seems strange. But this is my point - it's incredible what we miss when we are living in the bubbles of our minds.
It's easy to get stuck in a rut with your photography. You are into a subject or a style and suddenly years pass and you're still doing the same old thing. With any creative pursuit you have to stay fresh and inspired, and I'm always looking at ways to reconnect with the things I love about photography. Take yourself out of your routine and find different ways to look at your familiar surroundings. You will be blown away by how even the smallest tweak in your approach will produce spectacular photographs!
The people you meet
Whilst the streets are practically empty, there are always two types of people out and about at this time. Working people - shopkeepers opening up, cleaners, delivery men and women - and people who have been up all night. Many, as you can imagine, are lovers reluctant to let the night end.
I love this photo because it captures something that many of us have experienced - one of life's great moments - the excitement of staying up all night and talking. Chatting with them, and hearing their stories, is one of the great adventures of being up at daybreak.
In Paris I met two very friendly painters who are always up at dawn, drinking coffee: an Egyptian who spoke perfectly good English, a Frenchmen who spoke perfectly good French. A mutual understanding and respect brought us together - we were alone in the city, it was ours for just that brief hour or two. A very special moment, and they happily posed for me.
Images - Anthony Epes