The Art of Night – The Photography of Mark Gee

Moon and Sunrise – The Byron Bay Experience

Sunrise over the Cape Byron Lighthouse

Sunrise over the Cape Byron Lighthouse

Byron Bay is situated in Northern NSW on Australia’s east coast. I grew up not too far from here and for me, Byron would have to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I loved going there when I was growing up, and I still do love going there now, and it’s no wonder people come from all over the world to experience Byron Bay. It’s a laid back town with a surfing and alternate lifestyle vibe. The beaches are amazing and surrounded by nature, and the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse sits on top of Cape Byron on the most easterly point of the Australian mainland.

There are also a lot of talented artist, photographers and musicians in the Byron area, and one photographer in particular has certainly been an influence on me and my desire to capture a moon or sunrise behind the lighthouse. A few years ago, I walked into John D’Errey’s gallery in Byron Bay, and saw this amazing shot of the moon rising behind the Cape Byron Lighthouse. I was mesmerised by it and it really was the catalyst for the idea of my Full Moon Silhouettes video. It wasn’t until the start of 2013, that I started to come to Byron to attempt to capture either the sun of moon rising behind the lighthouse. I didn’t only want to capture a still image, but also a real time video. The idea was to capture something simple, but something with appeal.

Byron Sunrise with smoke haze in the air

Bush fires around Byron Bay made for spectacular sunrises with the smoke haze in the air.

During late December of 2013, I spent a week in the Byron area attempting to capture what I had tried and failed to capture before. Early each morning, I would drive as close as I could to the location which was just to the north of Byron Bay, and then I had to walk over a kilometer up the beach with all my camera gear to my final position for shooting the sunrise. I was 5.7km by line of sight away from the Cape Byron Lighthouse, and the plan was to have the sun rise exactly behind it revealing the silhouette of the lighthouse and the people at the base of it. There were bush fires in the area that week, so the haze from the smoke made for some amazing sunrises!

Using the PhotoPills iPhone App to work out my positioning and timing of the sunrise over Cape Byron

Using the PhotoPills iPhone App to work out my positioning and timing of the sunrise over Cape Byron

To capture the sun perfectly behind the lighthouse, my positioning had to be spot on. I couldn’t be more than a meter out or the sun would either rise too far to the left, or too far to the right of the lighthouse. I had a few failed attempts where this was the case, and it can be quite a challenge setting up and finding the position with the accuracy needed for a successful shot. I used a iPhone app called PhotoPills to plan my shoot, but even with it’s accurate GPS positioning, the input I have to put into the app to find my position also has to be quite accurate. Fortunately through the failed attempts, I was able to work out how long it would take from first seeing the sun, to the point it would need to be behind the lighthouse, and I made sure that timing was accurate in my planning within the app.

My Camera Setup looking at the Cape Byron Lighthouse 5.7km away

My Camera Setup looking at the Cape Byron Lighthouse 5.7km away

Weather was also a factor, and not only did cloud have the potential to ruin the shot, but so did the wind. When shooting video with a super telephoto lens like I had, the slightest vibration of the camera or lens will equate to camera shake of a much greater magnitude. I did my best to protect my camera setup from the wind by putting up a sun shelter that you would normally see on the beach, and shooting from inside of that. Fortunately there was hardly any wind that week, so I managed to keep my camera perfectly still throughout the recording.

My sun shelter which was perfect to protect my camera setup from the wind.

My sun shelter on the beach which was perfect to protect my camera setup from the wind.

Now capturing the sun rise was a cool thing to do, but I also wanted to capture a moonrise behind the lighthouse too. I got up extra early one morning (1.30am to be exact) to attempt to not only capture moonrise, but also sunrise just hours apart. For the moonrise I was unsure whether I wanted to capture stills or video, but opted for a sequence of stills, as it was more or less a test for another shoot I want to do a little later in 2014. I also managed to capture a perfect sunrise that morning, which you see in all it’s glory in my short film, ‘Rising Star Byron’.

Moonrise over the Cape Byron Lighthouse. I shot this just a few hours before I shot the "Rising Star Byron" video.

Moonrise over the Cape Byron Lighthouse. I shot this just a few hours before I shot the “Rising Star Byron” video.

Rising Star Byron is a real time video of the sun rising behind the Cape Byron Lighthouse at Byron Bay on the most easterly point of mainland Australia. People gather up around the lighthouse at dawn to watch the first rays of sun to hit mainland Australia as it rises over the ocean to the east. You may notice the tiny silhouettes of the people in the video walking around the lighthouse as the sun rises behind them. I also wanted to include a small riddle at the start of the film:

“This star rises every day and does not care about the pay”

That was just my own thinking about what I see and appreciate every day when I go out photographing these kind of things – that our own star, the sun, does rise every day, and it’s one of natures greatest shows free for all to see, no matter who you are. It’s something I believe a lot of people probably don’t appreciate in today’s busy society, so I just wanted to make people aware of the beauty that is actually out thereā€¦

And this short film would not be complete without the music that goes with it. It’s called ‘The Sky Above’ and is by New Zealand composer, Rhian Sheehan. You can check out Rhian’s latest album, ‘Stories from Elsewhere’ and more of his amazing music here:

Watch Rising Star Byron below, or watch it in HD quality at Vimeo here:

Rising Star Byron from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

7 Responses to “Moon and Sunrise – The Byron Bay Experience”

  1. James Sherar says:

    Around I think eearly hours of June 24 on central coast 2261 on east coast of Australia I saw the New moon rise with a thin portion of it exposing light from its dark side on the bottom right which caused a aswome tide and the horizon went pitch black then in the form of a rainbow as colour separation from violet purples to dark turquoise to daylight blue fading into a regular night sky lasted quite a while n gave me an overwhelming affect n can’t account for a period of time till the sun started rising in the same position n instantly transparently changed colours to a super detailed rainbow n the feeling was out of this world I was literally tripping out from this to the extant I can’t explain, at around 12noon I found myself on rocks with pockets full of shiny shells making some form of artwork I didn’t feel normal for about a week n alot of people fort I was in some form of psychosis from some drug only because they didn’t believe what I saw and was talking a hundred words a second figure of speech my brains comprehension n capacity was greatly accelerated can you help me find out what it was, two words I’ve found to explain basically are unfamilities n physclips please get back to me I’m still going down to the beach everynight to search for answers, then I can talk about n ancient type world that I have a memory of that night trust me my eyes were opened after that.. Thanking you greatly James p sherar

  2. Kai says:

    Thanks for the behind the scenes write-up. So great to see the planning and the setup

  3. Lawrence Taylor says:

    Hi Mark, I was firstly most impressed with your video if full moon rising over Mount Victoria Wellington, and then with the other videos available on that page. I have not tried to photograph the sun rising. Is it necessary to use a neutral density filter of a certain strength to prevent damage to the sensor?? I have always been interested in the night sky, but where I live in Hamilton New Zealand there is so much light pollution. This is particularly noticeable when using my reflector telescope. I am envious of so many beautiful shots are taken of the night sky without light pollution. I guess it’s just a matter of going somewhere where the light pollution isn’t an issue.
    Thanks so much for giving so much enjoyment,
    Lawrence Taylor

    • markg says:

      Hi Lawrence – thanks so much! When I shoot the sun like in Rising Star Byron, I’m just using a polarising filter and have the lens stopped right down. I have been told many times of the risk damaging the sensor, but with the sun low in the sky at sunrise and sunset, I think the risks are quite low and I haven’t had any issues yet.

      I hear your frustrations about light pollution around Hamilton, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t have to travel too far to escape it.


  4. MARK GEE:

    I have interviewed 3 Kiwi landscapers (Andris Apse, Colin Monteath, Craig Potton) for my own YTube channel. YOU were also on my ‘list’…

    I have been attempting to shoot lighthouses around NZ for 20 years, inc. moonrises and sunrises, timelapses and drone shots…
    just with I could afford the full Syrp Genie AND a 500mm telephoto lens.

    Might just have to settle for lusting after your amazing work!


    Ray Salisbury

    • markg says:

      Awesome Ray – sounds like you have the gear to get started me great shots! I shot Full Moon Silhouettes with a 500mm. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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