Sydney Cove as the sun comes up is a surprisingly busy place. The first ferries are coming in from the far reaches of the harbour; the seven-mile ships from Manly full of yawning shop assistants, the smaller boats from the harbourside homes of millionaires, a freighter bound for an upstream dock.
People are opening cafes, throwing wide the shutters of newsstands, taxi drivers greeting each other as they hunt for a fare.
At the Overseas Passenger Terminal, trucks full of supplies are lining up, cleaners sweeping the kerbs, security guys in hi-viz vests. No parking today: there’s a ship coming in.
Joggers breeze past me as I hunt down a spot by the waterfront railings. The Opera House across the water is little more than a silhouette, and the sky has the first blush of pink as the sun makes its way across the Pacific.
I’ve got three cameras in my bag. A little Canon mirrorless M6 with a surprisingly good 200mm lens. It gives me a shipload of reach in a small package. A Leica D-Lux with a fixed 24-90mm zoom: my everyday walking around workhorse. And my real treasure, what I call my little point-and-shoot: a full-frame fixed lens 28mm prime starting at ƒ1.7.
My Leica Q will come in handy later on for the wide view full of detail, but for now, I need my longest lens.
Thar she blows!
I’ve been tracking my target for a couple of hours now, using a ship reporting app. She has come in from the open ocean, I’ve seen the pilot boat making a rendezvous out past the heads and then speeding away, and now the dawn light is gleaming on a distant cruise ship.
I rest my camera on the railing. There’s not a huge amount of light around, and even if I crank up my ISO, the shutter speed is on the edge. With a telephoto lens pushed right out, I can’t afford even the tiniest shimmy, otherwise, I’ll have a bucketload of blur.
She glides past Fort Denison, a colonial fort built on the punishment rock the convicts called Pinchgut, and I fire off a shot, holding my breath. Click on the image to make it bigger (or head over to my Flickr page). It’s not too bad, and I can even read her name: Diamond Princess.
I have a couple of friends from Canada who have flown in to take a cruise on her, and while they sleep off the jet lag, I’m out here having fun.
Not the only photographer here
I watch the big cruiser come closer. Her upper decks are crowded with passengers, all with cameras in their hands. This has got to be one of the more dramatic port entries in the world. Even San Francisco at dawn can’t compete because the sun rises ahead. Here the dawn light is lighting up every bit of the harbour, and I know that the white sails of the Opera House must be gleaming, and every picture window on the mansions and apartment buildings a diamond sparkling in the level light.
Shooting into the rising sun, I’ve got to work for my shots, but I know that so long as am saving my shots in RAW format, and I get the exposure reasonably close, I can play around with the tones and colours in post, bringing out details from shadows, softening any bright highlights.
As she comes in closer, I reluctantly give up trying to capture the scene aboard with my long lens. She’s a bustle of activity now, with a tug fussing around her stern, crewmembers working on little platforms that have dropped down from her bow, and passengers pointing details out to each other while they feed a thousand Instagrams onto the web.
Diamond Princess moves closer, past my position on the point, and ties up at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, surely one of the better-positioned docks in the world, here in Sydney’s centre. She seems to fill half my world for a time, but she is a long way from being amongst the biggest cruise ships.
I walk back past the terminal, the ship now just a huge hotel, temporarily resident. The ferry wharves and train station of Circular Quay are well and truly awake now, the commuter crowds building up. Above, on the Cahill Expressway, rush hour is flowing and will keep on going through the day. I take the elevator to the top level, walk along, and take one last snap of the ship in the centre of Sydney.