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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 there…

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: http://rhiansheehan.com

Watch Rising Star Byron below, or watch it in HD quality at Vimeo here: http://vimeo.com/markg/byronsunrise

Rising Star Byron from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

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