Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.


I made an image about two weeks ago that made me smile. I smiled not only because I was on vacation, not only because I was happy with the decision to get up before sunrise and do some photographing while everyone else was still asleep, and not only because I was outside in the midst of an unbelievable sunrise. Sure, all those things played a role, but what really intrigued me was the role serendipity can have while photographing.

There I was on the beach at dawn with a most amazing sunrise unfolding. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, a Great Blue Heron flew up to me and landed a very short distance away. This in itself fascinated me because near my home in Pennsylvania there are some areas where an occasional heron can be seen, but they are very skittish and hard to approach closely. In Florida, where the birds seem much more accustomed to human presence, close approaches are not uncommon.....but, in this instance, it was the bird's choice to land right nearby.

After he landed, we sort of looked at each other, and then the heron seemed to look out at the sunrise as well. I know that is anthropomorphizing, but that is just what it seemed like despite the fact that, in reality, it was probably looking for fish in the water.

I had my 24-70 mm lens on my camera, and quickly racked it out to 70mm. The heron was still a bit small in the frame, so I slowly moved in a little closer while swinging the camera around towards the heron. He let me get a bit closer before I felt like I better stop the approach. Once he knew where I had stopped he didn't seem to pay much attention and let me shoot away. I tried to isolate his dark silhouette against the reflected colors of sunrise which seemed to emanate from the water.

'Sanibel Sunrise'
Sanibel Island, Florida
Copyright Howard Grill

He ultimately flew away, but it was an experience that really ingrained that unbelievably beautiful morning into my memory. When I returned back to our condo everyone was still asleep and I very contentedly crawled back into bed to catch a few more z's myself.

It was a particularly fun experience that day because I wasn't the only one out at that 'crazy hour'. There were three types of people up for sunrise that morning: the serious photographers, the serious shellers, and the serious fisherman. As I have frequently told my wife, I never feel more alive than when I am out photographing sunrise and have the opportunity to watch the world wake up.