In praise of the sunrise

by Steve Brock on November 29, 2015

Sunrise over Bryce Canyon - In praise of sunrisesOver on my other site, www.StephenWBrock.com I recently finished a three-part series on sunsets, why we value them and how to photograph them. You might think from that series that I’m fond of sunsets. I am. But in truth, I actually prefer sunrises. Why?

  • Sunrises are, to me, rarer. I’m usually awake when the sun sets. When it rises? That’s more dependent on the season and the previous night.
  • Sunrises are more surprising. With sunsets, you see them coming. With sunrises, you’re in the dark – literally – before they occur. You never know what you’ll get.
  • Sunrise is a special time of day. If I can actually drag myself out of bed to witness the sunrise, I’m usually glad I did. There’s something about the early morning that goes deep. I value the peace of it before all the busyness of the day descends and sadly, makes the experience of beholding the sun rising seem like an unnecessary frivolity.
  • Sunrise offers a different kind of light. The surrounding air, except in the hottest summer days, can be cool or even frigid. But on a clear morning, the sun’s warm light breaks through the cold atmosphere offering a glorious sensation, hot and cold all at the same time. Unusual, but it works. Sort of like dark chocolate with sea salt.
  • Sunrises are hopeful. This, above all other reasons, is why I love the morning sun making its appearance each morning. Sunrises welcome the day. They help us remember that we have another day. They grow in light and cast out the dark. There’s more than symbolism at play in the Christian celebration of Resurrection Sunday that we celebrate at sunrise. A light has indeed come…and in a way, comes every morning.

When I begin to wonder if I’m overthinking this whole thing about sunrises, all I have to do is climb out of a warm bed and step outside of a warm house into the cold of morning and look up. And there, I behold once again this glowing sign of hope.

I figure we can all use a little hope.

Every single day.


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The power of quests and themes

by Steve Brock on April 25, 2012

This image was taken after a day when the theme was "creativity." I'll leave it to you to determine what this has to do with creativity...

We’ve explored the first five and the second five ways in which making photos and making a trip meaningful are similar. But now, let’s blur those two ideas even further.

Here’s an exercise you can try at home or on a trip. I recommend starting at home because it isn’t as easy as you might think and it will take some practice. Practicing new photo techniques on your big trip is like practicing etiquette how-to’s on a first date: not good timing.

Start by determining a theme for your photos, a motif you want to pursue. (See the point on finding a theme in the guide, How to Photograph Machu Picchu). Think of your theme as a quest.

A theme or quest can be anything: bookstores, funny pets, graffiti, interesting car ornaments or bumper stickers, redheads, where people go after work, items related to a hobby, waterfalls or other forms of water, signs from your childhood neighborhood (if you are still around there), etc. The sky’s both literally and figuratively the limit.

But if you’re really interested in testing your creativity, move beyond tangible subjects. Focus on an abstract subject/theme such as a concept or emotion. What does love look like? Happiness? Longing? Anticipation? Maybe it’s a theme like “Behind the music” or “Different tastes around the world (demonstrated without driving more than 20 minutes from your house)” Again, no right or wrong way to do it. But consider these points using “Hope” as an example:

  • What does hope look like?
  • What does hope mean to you?
  • Where will you go to find/photograph it? A hospital? A playground? A line of people buying lottery tickets? A rescue mission?
  • What objects might represent hope that you could photograph? A beam of sunlight? Babies faces or maybe a baby toy? A sprout? A wedding ring? A warm looking doorway on a cold night? Start with these more stereotypical items but move beyond. Be inventive. Be personal. For example, a fresh new pocket sketchbook whispers to me of hope. What works for you?

The beauty of this exercise – one of many – is that the more you consider a subject or theme, the more you also realize new ways of seeing it all around you.

Exploring a theme like this on a day trip at home helps you learn how to plan longer trips/quests around a theme. You begin to appreciate that a theme can determine both where you’ll go and what you’ll pursue.

I once read, for example, of a woman who loved weaving and planned her whole trip around visiting local weavers in multiple countries, buying their products and photographing them at work. She combined her love of weaving with her love of travel for one of the most meaningful trips of her life.

For me, I usually choose the destination and then look for what I’ll find there, though as we saw with moss and will see again in future entries, pursuing “collections” gives you mini-quests to follow wherever you go.

Having a theme provides you with a different way to think about both photography and travel, one that can be fun, surprising and highly meaningful. And if you’re traveling with others, invite them into your quest so that everyone is engaged and on the lookout.

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The reluctant pilgrim – Part 1

by Steve Brock on August 9, 2011

I am a reluctant pilgrim.

No, this doesn’t mean I have issues with wearing black hats with funky buckles on them for Thanksgiving celebrations. Not that I do that, with the hat and all, but that’s not my meaning.

I’m referring to the fact that I get hung up on one aspect of being a pilgrim, one that thus differentiates it ever so slightly from the general idea of meaningful travel.

Traditionally a pilgrim is one who undertakes a pilgrimage to a place of deep meaning usually related to one’s faith. 

Pilgrimages come in all shapes, sizes and religious traditions. Destinations historically involve sites deemed holy –Jerusalem, Mecca, Kumbh Mela (the Hindu pilgrimage to the Ganges river), Bodh Gaya (a sacred Buddhist site in India), Camino de Santiago (Spain), Canterbury (England), The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Success (in Quito, Ecuador) and many more.

In recent years, however, people have conducted pilgrimages to locations not inherently considered spiritual: Disney World, the National Mall, Wrigley Field, Comicon, PebbleBeach, Graceland. Whatever one’s passion, there is likely an associated destination, a place of meaning for that person.

If that’s the case, then what’s the difference between a pilgrimage and meaningful travel in general? Not much, actually, except for the one little detail about where you end up.

A traditional pilgrimage tends to involve two characteristics.

First, a pilgrimage is an intentional journey to a specific location.

Second, a pilgrimage is as much about the inner journey as the outward one.

Meaningful travel also involves intentionality and an emphasis on your interior life, but the actual destination is sometimes not as critical as with a pilgrimage.


There are times when the destination is everything. You don’t want to drive home after a long trip in the general direction of your house. And you certainly don’t want that flight from LA toHonolulu to stop halfway and call it good.

I love Craig Barnes’ metaphor of the Christian life. Barnes notes that the difference between a pilgrim and a nomad is that the former has a specific destination. In the case of the Christian, that is heaven. When we lose sight of that – when we lose our intentionality and focus – we become adrift as nomads.

In this case, sign me up as a pilgrim. Yet even with this analogy, as much as I want to one day go to heaven, I believe that eternal life isn’t only about the destination. The relationship – Who you travel with – and the journey itself matter just as much.

And that’s where the distinction comes in between a traditional pilgrimage to a specific place and meaningful travel that focuses as much on the process of getting there as on where you arrive. If the destination is everything, what allowance is there for surprise detours or side trips? The unexpected excursions off the itinerary are often the most meaningful.

There is a distinct need in our lives today for pilgrimage, journeys that connect us experientially to certain locations. But even more there is the need to apply the principles of pilgrimage to any trip, even one without a clear destination. When we travel thus, we come to agree with Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous statement:

“To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”


P.S. If you are interested in the subject of pilgrimage, I highly recommend The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster. He does an excellent job of articulating the historic practice of pilgrimage and its value to us today.


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