The semi-nocturnal, furtive movements of the early morning landscape photographer are often fraught with unlikely hazards. In the equally unlikely (ok - make that massively improbable) event that a film were made of the same, the opening certification would warn of scenes containing mild peril. Some of you, the audience, would scoff at this odd declaration - yet those of you who tread before dawn in search of the photogenic know it to be true. In point of fact, this mild peril often starts even before leaving the house...
Picture the following if you will.
Having spent an enjoyable first day's holiday with my wife, inlaws and her grandad somewhere in Wales, yours truly is itching to get out and explore what delights there are to tempt that lens. Late that afternoon, under a flimsy pretence of 'getting some air', I head out in my wife's car (cheaper than mine to run while away although as it's a Beetle Cabriolet there's barely room to pack camera gear, let alone non-essentials like clothes) to scout the area. Painfully aware there's a curfew in place for my return to enable us all to go out for dinner, I nevertheless discover a couple of locations that validate my previous research. Ashamedly, I'm unable to resist rattling off a few test images, and as a result arrive back at our holiday cottage later than agreed only to be met by my wife standing in the doorway slowly tapping a rolling pin in the palm of her open hand. Never have I felt such kinship with Andy Capp... I take in this harmonious scene of domesticity as I hurriedly pull up alongside the front wall to the cottage, before cursing as I have to scramble across the car's interior and out through the passenger door (despite Beetle Cabriolet's having infinitesimally tiny boots, they have gigantic doors impossible to extricate yourself through unless you're parked several yards away from any solid objects. Walls are pretty solid).
Having had a lovely meal and made some plans for the next few days together, I decide to head out early the next morning to do some shooting - figuring I can either be back before anyone else is really up and with it, or else arrange to meet up with them once they head out in my father-in-law's car. This plan becomes even more promising once I realise fog is forecast for the early hours, coinciding with high tide...
10.30pm and I'm off too bed so as to be up for 4.45am.
12.00 midnight and I'm lying awake, unable to sleep and filled with anticipation at the prospect of photographing my ideal conditions in a completely new location. Yes, I really do get that excited!
2.30am and I'm wondering if perhaps I had dropped off at some point. Surely I couldn't have really been laid awake for four hours listening to the settling sounds of an unfamiliar house at night?
4.45am and my alarm goes off. Judging by my initial fuzziness I must have laid awake for at least four hours listening to the settling sounds of an unfamiliar house at night. However, it takes only moments for my enthusiasm to take over and I'm stabbing quickly at the off button on my alarm so as not to wake anyone else.
Casting aside the duvet, for once grateful that all holiday homes seem to have single beds - there's less chance of disturbing my wife as I push myself from the mattress. My first footfall on the bare wooden floorboards sends a creak through the room, and I remember the unequivocal natural law that states all sounds occurring before dawn shall automatically be multiplied by the power of ten in relation to their day time counterparts. It's right up there with the one about that tree falling in a forrest somewhere with nobody to hear it... Tentatively sneaking across the room by the glow of my phone's screen, testing each board before laying my full weight on it I remember I have a whole room, landing, double staircase and hallway to cross like this. There might as well have been tacks on the floor. There lay the problem with the cottage we were staying in, rustic and full of character charm it may have been, complete with quaint paraphernalia guaranteed to enhance your stay, yet not a silent carpet anywhere to be found. Reaching the clothes I'd laid out I quickly pulled them on (marvelling at how much noise an innocuous sock can make and ruefully aware I could quite possibly be putting my t-shirt on back to front), I try to ascertain whether opening the door quickly or slowly will render the least sound. I try both ways. One causes my wife to moan and turn in her bed. The other causes her to moan and turn the other way. Reaching the landing, I creep hesitantly the half mile to the bathroom, pausing with one foot raised upon hearing halted snoring emanate from one of the bedrooms. It picks up unabated, and I thread my way on to the sink, where I ease the tap slightly open and listen as Niagara Falls splashes into my cupped hands and waiting face. Wash complete, I remember to leave my electric toothbrush off as I brush (clever lad I am), before knocking the toothpaste tube over - it heads to the floor in slow motion and I break it's fall on the stone slate with my foot, flicking it back to an upright position in the cabinet as I mop a bead of perspiration from my furrowed brow. Ok, I lied about the last part. I don't perspire.
Twenty minutes later and I'm congratulating myself as I head through the front door, shoes clasped in one hand as I ease it closed behind me. The fog really is thick, I can see it eddying about the occasional street lamp and the air has that curiously leaden, heavy taste about it that only comes with such atmospherics. Slipping on my footwear and metaphorically rubbing my hands with glee, I press the keyfob to unlock the car and cross to the passenger door remembering the wall blocking the driver's side. Sliding my gear on to the back seat (not wanting to be fooled by the Beetle Cabriolet's infinitessimally tiny boot), I slide in and over the passenger seat, ready to slowly drive off and leave everyone none the wiser in their beds.
Suddenly, the car alarm sounds. Lights flash blindingly reflecting from the metallic surfaces of other cars nearby, while the horn triggers deafeningly as I freeze in disbelief just as I'm falling into the driver's seat. Stabbing again at the unlock button on the keyfob I manage to deactivate everything and drive off hurriedly, laughing to myself at the ridiculousness of it all. Some thirty minutes later, setting up ready for this shot, I remember if entering the car by any other than the driver's door the alarm is only deactivated if you depress the fob twice.
Scenes of mild peril - just as I told you.
On a separate note, I'm pleased to have received an Honourable Mention in the International Photography Awards for my entry 'Sand, Sea & Silence', a set of five related images.
Congratulations to all those of you I know who enjoyed successes - I've recognised at least a couple of dozen of you so far!