Since childhood, I have always been an early riser, just like the rest of my immediate family. That habit came in handy once I took up photography. I found that my best photo opportunities were at sunrise rather than sunset. Mostly because I don't encounter nearly as many people at that time of the day. No crowds to shoot around. As a morning person and a photographer, sunrise is the best part of my day. It's a time of quiet reflection when everything is still.
I lived most of my life within 15 minutes of a Great Lake, either Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. For most places that I visited in the Midwest states, I could count on knowing when the sun would come up over the horizon, and I would be at the site an hour before that, at first light. That meant getting up very, very early. In Southeast Wisconsin in early July, first light is at around 4:45 a.m. and sunrise is just about 35 minutes later at 5:20 a.m.
In Wisconsin, if I got a late start out of the house, I was going to miss my best shots if I wanted to be there before sunrise. Kind of like missing an airplane flight. That plane is going to leave without you if you're not there on time, just as the sun is going to rise and the light will change even if you're not there to capture it.
Now, living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I have a little bit more time to shoot before the sun comes up over the mountains. I can take advantage of the blue hour after the sun comes up over the horizon on the other side of the mountain. But I can also take advantage of the changing light, colors, and shadows in the time that it takes the sun to come over the top of the mountain.
Depending on where I'm shooting the sunrise from, it'll be another 30 to 60 minutes before the sun comes up over the mountain.
It has been interesting to learn the timing and where I can go to capture the sunrise (or twilight) at various points on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I typically avoid shooting straight into the sun after it comes up over the horizon (or mountain), though there are exceptions to that rule.
Shooting sunrises in the mountains is somewhat easier than shooting on a Great Lake shoreline because there are other objects that I can shoot through or behind to get some excellent silhouette shots. Generally, once that sun comes up over the expanse of water, it blows out the colors in the sky unless you have some cloud cover. I can't tell you how many times I looked at the weather on my phone the night before, hoping for partly cloudy skies at sunrise. Too much cloud cover, and you can't see the sun rise above the horizon.
When you're standing on a lake shore or sea shore, there aren't many obstacles between you and the rising sun, so you have to turn and photograph whatever the sun is shining on. Grand Haven Lighthouse at SunriseThe Grand Haven Lighthouse is on Lake Michigan in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
Unless you're fortunate to witness a sunrise (or sunset!) with dramatic cloud cover. Solitude at SunsetNatural lighting at sunset at "Sunset Point" at Presque Isle Park in Marquette, Michigan