The Cost of Sleep

Sunrise, Goblin Valley. When sunrises are a must, sleep comes at a premium price.
Sunrise, Goblin Valley. When sunrise is a must, sleep comes at a premium price.

Normal people (by which I mean non-photographers) often suffer from a strange delusion-the idea that it makes sense to spend thousands of dollars (and both weeks of annual vacation) travelling across the world to see a beautiful place, but no sense at all to either get up for sunrise or stay outside for sunset, and thus having to eat dinner earlier or later than their usual hour. A little thinking ahead might give many of these folks a better vacation experience.

Of course, we photographers need to think ahead too.

For many of us, sunset and sunrise are our prime working hours, it’s important to be out and about for both. In many locations, this can be a challenge. My first trip to Glacier National Park in Montana was in mid-summer some years back. I realized then that if I needed to be up at 4:15 to make a 5 a.m. sunrise, and that I wouldn’t be back from a 9 p.m. sunset until almost 10, that it was absolutely impossible to get more than about six hours sleep between the two and still make both calls, in practice, I was getting closer to four and a half.

I’m pretty sure that longer nights are one of the reasons I enjoy working in winter.

Of course, some of the possible adjustments are easy. Naps are terribly underrated, but not always possible when you’re working in areas so spread out, or on hikes so long, that you won’t have an easy return to home base during the day. Some tips include moving meals, personal grooming and data maintenance to the middle of the day. Thinking carefully about where you’re staying matters, too, on trips to Death Valley it’s not unusual for me to stay in two different locations during my stay, and if I were doing work at Eureka Dunes I’d likely include a third.

For many of my trips, return to “home base” isn’t always possible during the day. On that Glacier trip I noticed that just my “two copies of everything every day” rule was costing me sleep, in part because of a slow card reader, in part because my other backup involved burning optical media, and that while I could let one burn while I was sleeping that if I needed to burn two disks (because of the volume of data I’d shot), that I’d have to wait for a whole DVD burn from my laptop before I could replace the disk and then get some shut-eye. This experience, more than anything else, led to my idea of “buying sleep,” after my return, I immediately dropped a few hundred dollars on faster memory cards, a faster memory card reader, and most importantly a hard-disk based photo backup gadget (I think my first was the original Epson P-2000) to replace DVD burning.  These days, I’m using a ::amazon(“B002BBHOTQ”, “one of the Hyperspace hard drive gadgets”):: as well as ::amazon(“B000HYX2SG”,”faster memory cards”):: and ::amazon(“B0018OF88G”,”readers.”)::  Taken together, these tools save me a half-hour or more of sleep a night on some trips, and in that framing seem well worth the cost.

I still don’t get enough sleep on some trips; when you’re dealing with 24-hour arctic days, it’s just hard to get settled down to sleep knowing that there’s still good light. Some of my favorite shots of puffins were taken near midnight.  But overall, being more conscious of the ways in which I can trade-off money or convienence for sleep has made me a much better-rested, and ultimately happier, nature photographer.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Great piece. The best tools are ones that give us more time to spend on important things like creating and exploring – it’s a shame that so few technology products truly boost efficiency.

  2. Great Article, the Part I loved most “I still don’t get enough sleep on some trips; when you’re dealing with 24-hour arctic days, it’s just hard to get settled down to sleep knowing that there’s still good light.”

Leave a Reply

Close Menu