Beach sunrise & sunset photos aren’t exactly a rarity in Florida. Heck, with 1,350 miles of coastline, I doubt if there is a Floridian that lives more than an hour from a beach. But from a photographer’s perspective, what might originally seem like a golden bonanza tends to tarnish a bit when you come to realize that many of the beaches look pretty much the same. Nice sand, dunes, sea oats….and that’s about it. Great if you are out to get a tan and enjoy the ocean, but as a photographer, I’d prefer to have some waves smashing against boulders, mountains dropping off into the surf…something other than just sand, ocean and sky. Don’t get me wrong, a simple beach sunrise shot can be beautiful, but when I’m scouting beach locations, I’m always looking for something more.
I found myself on Amelia Island last week and I found one of those beach locations with a bit more. What do you think?:
I really think this is the best sunrise location on the Island. Even better, this wood pier is easy to get to and very accessible. It is located just a couple hundred feet south of Public Beach Access #31..which includes a small public parking lot (even better, the parking is free). This is located right off of South Fletcher Ave. (A1A) at Hutchins Ave (look for the blue and white Beach Access sign marked #31…see photo to the right ). You should be able to get here in 30 minutes or less from any point on Amelia Island. Click here for a google map with directions to this spot Don’t confuse this pier with the large concrete one a bit north in Ft. Clinch State Park (the park doesn’t open until after sunrise).
The great thing about sunrise shots that incorporate a fishing pier is that you can just walk a few hundred yards down the beach and now get a shot sans pier:
Of course, once the sun is up you can hang around the pier and play with long exposures that turn the surf into that silky look:
A few sunrise/sunset tips for my fellow photographers:
- Be early! Color is usually best before the actual sunrise…often 30 minutes or more before. I learned this lesson the hard way last year in Charleston when I walked out of my hotel room twenty minutes before sunrise and looked up to behold one of the most glorious sunrises I’ve ever seen. By the time I got to my pre-scouted sunrise location (despite running the ENTIRE *&$^@} way), the sunrise had faded to one that was nothing special.
- Another frustration to be avoided is when you get to the beach just in time to capture the sunrise’s peak…and then notice that your lens has fogged over. With humidity close to 100% during the summer, condensation on your lens is a common occurrence in Florida. You can avoid this by just driving to the beach with your windows down and AC off…your camera/lens will acclimatize in ten minutes or less.
- Bracket your shots. The dynamic range of sunrises/sunsets is pretty, well, dynamic! A range of exposures will ensure that you get at least one shot that you can work with. It also gives you the option to use HDR.
- Bring your tripod. Some of your shots may take several seconds.
- Wear watershoes. You will likely need to get your feet wet. Otherwise you will end up running back and forth like a sandpiper.
- If you set you tripod up in the surf, be aware that receding waves will dig sand out from under your tripod…which can result in blurred shots.
- Move around. Some folks scout out a location, pick the best spot and never move. I would have missed many of my best shots on this beach if I had set up my tripod and kept it there.
- Bring your wide angle lens to allow you to get the whole scene. A wide angle zoom is even better since you can change your perspective without actually moving.
- If your camera has a Live View feature, use it to get your focus perfect. Limited light can make it difficult for autofocus to work properly.
Once the sunrise burns itself out, there are a number of other photogenic locations on Amelia Island:
- Ft. Clinch
- This is a state park at the northern end of the island that features a Civil War era brick fort.
- TheFernadina Beach Lighthouse.
- Best views are from the Egans Creek Overlook within Ft. Clinch State park or parked alongside Atlantic Ave across from Atlantic Park
- You usually can’t get close since it is located behind a locked fence and it is only open the first and third weekend of the month (website)
- Fernadina Beach ‘Old Town’
- Cumberland Island/St. Marys
- My wife and I enjoyed the Amelia Island Boat Tour. Cost is $28/each and for that you get a well-narrated 2 hour tour that leaves from the little harbor at the end of Centre Street in downtown Fernadina Beach. You have a good chance of seeing dolphins as well as wild horses on Cumberland Island (bring your longest lens). You can get nice shots of Ft. Clinch as well distant views of nuclear subs at the base at Lake Mary’s. See reviews of this tour on Trip Advisor by clicking this link.
- Sunsets are a bit more challenging to capture than sunrises.
- This shot was taken from harbor at the end of Centre Street (next to Brett’s Waterway Café)
- If you are a guest at the Omni resort, you might want to try shooting the sunset from the boardwalk at Drummond Park (on Sea Marsh Road past the Golf Clubhouse). The sunsets during my visit were lackluster, but I’d bet that a decent one would look pretty impressive over the salt marsh. If you aren’t a guest at the Omni, I believe you could still get to the park if you have reservations for dinner at the lodge…if so, they will allow you access thru the guard gate.
I won’t be able to post again for a couple weeks, but I have a great excuse: I’m leaving this Friday for a two week trip to Hawaii (I know, poor me!) I’ve spent the last two months planning every sunrise and sunset shot…dozens of hours on the internet looking for tips, eons on Google Earth figuring out angles and shadows, forever on Trip Advisor trying to figure out the best tours…but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’m looking forward to sharing my photos with you when I get back. In the meantime, have fun and keep shooting!
Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips and a great Sunrise Location