May 23, 2024

This Colorado Photographer Captured Every Sunrise in October


Every year, starting on October 1st, photographer Craig Turpin embarks on his 30 Days of Dawn Challenge. For a month straight, Turpin wakes up at the wee hours of the morning to photograph the sunrise within the mountain ranges of Aspen, Colorado. We spoke to Turpin right after he completed the fifth year of the challenge to ask everything from his inspiration, to his wake-up times and preferred camera gear.

About “30 Days of Dawn”

Turpin was first inspired to capture the sunrise during a trip to Los Angeles in 2018. He joined his surfer friends at Venice Beach as they made it a ritual to hit the waves under the emerging dawn every morning in October. Turpin loved the idea so much that, the following fall back home to Aspen, nestled in the mountains, he put his own spin on the concept. 

Every October since, Turpin has been on a mission to snap the most breathtaking sunrise shots—capturing its vibrant fall colors, calm rivers, and roaming wildlife. 

“I always loved this time of day, so I turned it into a photo challenge for myself—rising every morning before sunrise, choosing a location, then sharing the photos with the world,” said Turpin.

Turpin’s photo series, “30 Days of Dawn,” has made waves beyond his mountain views. He’s showcased his work as a guest speaker at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and was interviewed against the stunning backdrop of the Maroon Bells for a segment on CBS Sunday Morning. 

Photo by Craig Turpin

Here’s what Turpin had to say about his preparation for the challenge:

What time do you wake up to catch the sunrise?

Turpin: October is an easy month because sunrise is so late [in Colorado]. It starts at around 6:15am at the beginning of the month and ends around 7:20am. But I still wake up early because a lot of my locations are more than a half hour away.

Once I park, sometimes I need to hike up to a mile, so that requires a little bit more time. Considering all this, my wake-up time is usually between 3:00 and 4:30am. That gives me enough time to pack everything up, get a coffee made, and get out the door.

How are you choosing locations?

Turpin: Some of my locations are based on hikes that I’ve done before, and vantage points with beautiful mountain peaks. I always have the Maroon Bells and Independence Pass on the list because those are places that, by the end of the month, are usually closed because of the snow.

They are places I’ve seen and captured before, but every year they can look different. Sometimes there’s snow on the ground, or the leaves are gold — I like having that history of what it looks like every year.

Photo by Craig Turpin

So, when you get to your location, how long are you out shooting?

Turpin: I’m always there about 45 minutes before sunrise. Then, I’m usually there for about two hours post-sunrise. During that time, there are just so many other things to shoot. Whether it’s the trees just getting tips of light or the bright foliage—there’s just always something to inspire me to photograph….It’s important to have patience, wait, and see what’s going to unfold in front of you. 

Photo by Craig Turpin

Turpin’s Camera Gear

What camera did you use to shoot the challenge?

Turpin: For the last three years, my primary body has been the Sony a7R III. I also carry with me the Sony a7II as a backup or, in some cases, to set up a timelapse. I also carry with me a little Sony Cyber-shot RX0 II— the perfect action cam.

Photo by Craig Turpin

What specific features of these Sony cameras really resonate with you?

Turpin: I picked them because of the megapixel size. At the time, the a7R IV was already out, but the a7R III just hit the right megapixel. I didn’t need to go that big… because a lot of my photos are either bracketed, panorama stitched, or both.

What are some lenses that you pair with your cameras?

Turpin: I have a trifecta of great lenses. My primary one, most of the time, is the original GMaster 70-200mm. It’s a little heavier and a little bit bigger than the newer one, but I’ve had it cleaned and repaired. I absolutely love it.

The other lens that I carry with me is the Sony GMaster 16-35mm. Then, if I’m shooting from the car or farther away, I have my Sony GMaster 200-600mm. It compresses the long landscape shots and creates a dynamic image that you don’t see with other lenses. 

Are there camera accessories that you always carry with you?

Turpin: I have a bunch of Lee filters and a couple Hoya circular polarizers that I use for the 70-200mm and the 16-35mm lenses. I’ve also been a long and loyal customer of Peak DesignTheir carbon fiber travel tripod and weather shell are always with me.

I also highly recommend the Sony RMT-P1BT Remote Commander. It’s basically a wireless remote that works off Bluetooth. I can stand far away so, if I want to put myself in the shot, I can actually get it from up to 100 yards away.

Photo by Craig Turpin

How do you capture your time lapse photography

Turpin: My a7II is usually set up with a 50mm lens. I incorporate it with an anchor external battery pack that gives me up to 12 hours of battery. I can leave the camera in a secure location overnight, come back, and know that the camera is going to continue shooting since the battery lasts all night.

Now that the challenge has reached its fifth year, I asked Turpin if he’s thought of expanding 30 Days of Dawn passed October to capture Aspen’s other seasons. He responded:

“I have an idea to do it in the spring when everything’s turning green, but I’m not sure that Aspen is the right location for it. I might have some traveling to do!”

Gabby Robles

Gabby Robles is currently the Managing Editor at Adorama where she produces content for 42West about photography, videography, gaming, musical instruments, audio, and more. She has worked with a range of editorial content from trade books to business-to-business magazines. She was a Knight CUNYJ Diversity Fellow in 2017 and is a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course. Follow her on Instagram @GabbyRobles_.

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