01.15.23: Fountain at sunrise

The sun rises behind a fountain in Charleston Waterfront Park, Charleston, S.C.

The sun rises behind a fountain in Charleston Waterfront Park, Charleston, S.C.

Photographed famous fountain, found another

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Feb 19, 2017 7:17 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM 
  • Focal length: 10mm
  • Aperture: f/16
  • Shutter: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 100

I like doing travel photography, wandering around a city grabbing photos of both iconic and little-known scenes to add to my photo collection.

And I’ve learned through the years that the best time to head out for some quick shots is shortly before sunrise. There are fewer people on the streets at that time to obstruct the view. Plus the directional lighting in the early morning is excellent for photography.

A few years ago we decided to make a stop in Charleston, S.C., to play tourist for a couple of days while working our way back north from Florida. My wife and I walked around town during our first day and I did some photography, but I spent much of the time finding locations that I could revisit on an early-morning photo hike the next day.

One of those sites was the Pineapple Fountain, the focal point of Charleston’s Waterfront Park along the Cooper River. The fountain has become one of the city’s most popular sites since it opened in 1990.

As expected, the area around the Pineapple Fountain was packed when we visited midday. Children were splashing in the water while adults were using their phones to get photos. Any photo I would have attempted would have shown a crowd scene.

I assumed it would be less crowded when I returned at sunrise the following morning. And I noted a couple of other fountains in the area that, while less famous, might make an interesting photo.

But when, and more importantly, where would the sun rise? I have an app for that called The Photographer's Ephemeris, which is essential for photographers. The app provides data on sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset. That’s not a big deal because I can find that kind of data online. It also provides info on exactly where the sun or moon will rise and set and at what elevation the sun will be at specific times. Even better, it shows everything on a map so a photographer can determine where to stand to get the sun or moon behind or above a specific structure or landmark.

l knew from checking the app that the official sunrise in Charleston would be 6:59 the next morning and the sun would be just above the horizon and behind the fountain a little after 7. So I grabbed my camera, some lenses and a tripod and left the hotel a little after 6 a.m. so I could get some pre-sunrise street shots on the way to the fountain.

When I reached the Waterfront Park I noticed two things. First, there were just enough clouds on the horizon to provide dramatic colors at sunrise, perfect for photography. And second, there was another photographer standing where I wanted to be. So I set my tripod up behind his location and waited for him to finish, then moved my gear to the spot I wanted. And I captured a couple of really nice photos of the Pineapple Fountain.

Then I moved about 40 feet to my left, set up the tripod behind another fountain and — five minutes later —  grabbed this shot. I like it because the separate streams of water from the fountain converge into the rising sun.

I captured both scenes using what is known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique. HDR combines multiple shots using different exposures to create an image that retains detail in both the highlight and shadow areas. That’s more like the human eye and brain interpret a scene with both intensely bright and deeply shadowed areas, constantly adjusting to keep color in a sky at sunrise while seeing the detail in the shadows. In a standard camera image, exposing for the shadow detail blows out the highlights, turning those areas pure white. Exposing to retain detail in the highlights loses shadow detail, turning those areas pure black. And exposing for the midtones risks losing both highlights and shadows. That’s how a camera works.

I shot several other photos of the fountain that morning, but this one is my favorite.

I assumed it would be less crowded when I returned at sunrise the following morning. And I noted a couple of other fountains in the area that, while less famous, might make an interesting photo.

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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