Robbie Burns famously wrote, “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. So it was when I carefully set myself up for the one shot at precisely the decisive moment.
Late in December 2017, I travelled from Darwin to Sydney to catch up with a university friend who was visiting Australia as part of The Ashes Test Match pilgrimage. I arrived at my hotel in the early evening and wandered down to Circular Quay to soak up the atmosphere and take a few shots of the Opera House and surroundings.
I tried an 8 sec exposure to capture the receding light in the sky and was pleased with the gentle blur of the people enjoying a drink. If you look at the bottom right of the image you can see one person remains sharp, it looks like they are asleep.
The next morning I got up early and had scouted a location close to the southern pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to take photos of the Opera House as the sun started to rise. I was in place forty minutes before sunrise and conditions looked good.
A touch of cloud cover, a few lights around the Opera House. The sun would be rising just behind the Opera House.
Then, as the light improved, I noticed a large shape heading towards Circular Quay. At first, given the size, I thought it was a container ship heading for Glebe. Then I realised it was a huge cruise palace coming straight into Circular Quay right next to where I was standing.
My perfect sunrise was ruined, or so I thought. But as the ship continued to turn towards the passenger terminal, I realised the bow of the ship might match up with the profile of the Opera House. I took seven frames as it approached and couldn’t believe my luck when the sixth frame lined up perfectly.
Looking at the photos when I got back to Darwin, I noticed the two figures on the bow of the ship and the two figures on the third “sail” of the Opera House roof. I was tempted to clone the two roof figures onto the first sail but left it as shot.
With the sunrise bathing the sky in orange light, I switched from the 23mm f/2 to the 55-135mm zoom on my Leica TL and took two more shots of the figures on the Opera House roof silhouetted against the warmth of the morning light. As it was two days before New Years’ Eve I am guessing they were installing lights or fireworks for the huge party held every year on the harbour.
So, the next time you set your alarm for 4 am and have second thoughts about getting up when it goes off, don’t just roll over and go back to sleep. Think of those industrious mice. Get out there and wait for the light, you may also capture something quite unexpected.
While preparing this article I went back to the TPE app (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) to illustrate how I planned the shot. The red pin shows where I planned to set up my tripod close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon. The orange line shows the direction of the sunrise behind the last building in the Opera House complex. Just to the south of where I planned to set up is the Circular Quay passenger terminal and, ironically, the satellite image even includes a cruise ship at berth.