The World Was Ours. Sunrise at Lake Michigan with Janel.

Sometimes an unrealistic idea pops into your head and percolates despite the constraints of reality. “A sunrise photoshoot at a desolate beach would be amazing!” I tried to dismiss the thought but it rattled around and wouldn’t be forgotten. “Remember that beach thing?” “You haven’t shot anything recently.” “BEACH! DAN! BEACH!”

After growing tired of talking to myself, I sent a message to the ultimate photographer/model/friend, Janel Wenger, to see if she’d be down for an early morning adventure. Of course she was all in. Next, I turned inwards again, “Ahh Dan, how do you make your beach dream a reality?”

The Midwest isn’t know for gleaming beaches, particularly those without people and especially ones close to Chicago and the millions that live within it. Luckily for us, and unluckily for everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic had the side effect of closing down overnight stays at Illinois’ State Parks. The research began and a few calls lead me to a helpful park ranger that most certainly did NOT tell me where one should go if an intrepid individual wanted to take photos as the sun arose.

A few weeks later, Janel and I were awake, groggily, at 4am. We drove north from the city to Illinois State Beach, anticipating what we’d find. We arrived at an uninhabited beach with Lake Michigan’s stunningly smooth and clear waters beckoning us in as the sun slowly rose over a perfectly clear sky. The stress of a world fighting a virus went away and it was just the two of us with a blank canvas to utilize. These are the results.

One of my priorities was to simplify. I love environmental portraits but sometimes the environment can overwhelm the subject. When the subject is as stunning as Janel it’s hard not to be drawn to her and though I want to make sure the location is remarkable, more importantly, I want your eyes to focus on her first. With the power she commands, I think we succeeded.

Additionally, I searched high and low for a vintage beach chair to bring to the shoot. Last minute, I found a Facebook Marketplace seller willing to leave a chair out the night before, as long as I paid in advance. Showing up late in the evening, the chair was right where the seller said it would be and a sweet prop was secured. The shots where intentionally desaturated to give a throwback feel and I think Janel helped me achieve exactly what I was looking for.

Having the beach completely free allowed for plenty of wardrobe changes and experimentation. One of the results of trying different exposures and angles was perhaps my favorite photo from the day. I feel the image conveys so much emotion while being subtle and open for interpretation. I focused on tighter crops, as I tend to shoot more full body shots, with simplicity again being a priority.

As the sun rose, the sky changed quickly and we worked to get as many shots in before we lost the unique lighting that our morning had offered.

If you’ve read this far, I appreciate it and welcome any feedback. Following the shoot, perhaps the most important thing occurred. We had an epic breakfast delivered and I took a long nap. I don’t think I could describe this as anything other than a successful day. Maybe I should have unrealistic ideas and turn them into reality more often.

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