George Wilson: Sunrise at Collins Landing, Eastham on Cape Cod

Eastham is on Cape Cod, a place where a major portion of my youth (and adult life) was spent. Today I still return there, to my family home, to the beaches, and to my favorite haunts. There is a lifestyle that is quintessentially “Cape Cod.” Patti Page sang it in her song, “Old Cape Cod,” and Henry Beston said it in in his book, The Outermost House. (I firmly believe this should be required reading for anyone having been to or planning a trip to the Cape). I was maybe ten years old when we made the sojourn through the sand to see the Outermost House, on foot, of course. This was where Beston spent a year writing in the peaceful solitude of the Dunes of Coast Guard Beach. A few years later the great raging tempest – the Blizzard of ’78 – tore his small one-room shack from its foundations, carrying it out into the depths of the Atlantic. Today, instead of carrying a surf rod searching for summer Blues and Striped Bass, I carry a camera. I hope that Cape Cod, seen through my lens, brings someone closer to the outer beach, the dune grass, and the way of life so unique to this place.

When I am “on Cape,” each morning I venture out to capture the first rays of light creeping over the eastern horizon. The Cape is waking up: the lapping waves in salt ponds, the crashing surf at Nauset, the feel of the morning cold held by beach sand. All of these things bring inspiration. I find my images down long-forgotten roads that I once travelled by bicycle and, in later years, by car. This morning I passed by the Young Windmill, crossed the Orleans Rotary by only a hundred yards, then turned down onto Collins Landing. This is a unique place that only locals stop to visit, on the southern end of Town Cove. Leaving here, small boats move north past Hopkins Island and around Snow Point into Nauset Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Lobstermen and clam diggers working for private clients and local restaurants keep their boats here. If it is a half tide, biting sand flies keep me swatting while making camera adjustments – that is just part of the experience.

One particular morning the sky was clear of clouds – featureless and devoid of character. The normal sunrise, although brilliant in light and color, would still be humdrum and plain. How could I make the shot and hold the viewers’ interest? I closed my eyes to fully experience my other senses - smell, hearing and touch – and noted the stillness of the place. A still morning does not have the motion of a sunrise breeching the perceived barrier of the horizon. These were my first thoughts.

Small boats abounded – my subject was everywhere! I did not need the sun, so I would not show it! I tilted my camera down slightly to focus on a small boat on the water, which would eliminate the horizon. That would simplify my composition – the viewer would not be confused by multiple “targets” in the frame. I positioned the small boat on the right of the frame to match the direction of the rising sun, creating positive space with just a touch of negative space that stopped the viewer’s movement through the frame. Now, composition chosen, it was time to work the settings. I chose ISO 400 due to the the dim light conditions. This setting also allowed me to use a smaller aperture and higher shutter speed, as ISO 400 is far more sensitive to light than my normal ISO 100.

Next I wanted to increase the warmth in the image – white balance was the answer here. Telling my camera that I am shooting in a light that is slightly more blue will force it to add yellows and reds to the image, to correct the perceived lighting difference – I chose to set my white balance to 10,000° K. I wanted a moderate depth of field because I was only concerned with getting the boat in focus. My selection was f10. Now in the manual mode, all I needed to do was meter and underexpose by using the shutter speed, while checking my LCD to get the image I wanted. Shooting below 1/60 of a second would introduce some camera shake into the image, necessitating the use of a tripod. This gave me my slowest allowable speed.

I shot this image quickly and then began to use other boats in different compositions, but time and time again, I came back to this scene.

The image was cropped to 16 x 32 inches in post-processing to emphasize the composition I used. The final image was sharpened slightly as well.

Final settings: ISO400, f10, 1 / 125, 10,000°K white balance

George Wilson has more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer, and his work has appeared in many national and international publications. Now focusing on nature and wildlife photography, George exhibits his infrared black and white landscape work and teaches photography at numerous art centers, botanical gardens and at the Walt Disney World Resort in his home state of Florida. A key element to George’s work is his dedication to traditional photography as his post processing is strictly limited to tools aligning with the traditional darkroom. To see more of George's work, visit

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