Neil Williams: The man who shoots the sunrise

We all have our special places; we love Dorset, but there are so many more to discover – it’s a Dorset state of mind. Here we reveal one of Instagram’s best hidden treasures, the photographer who never misses a sunrise…

Every morning Neil Williams wakes up in the dark, leaves the comfort of his home and takes an incredible picture of the dawn breaking over Britain.

He’s very committed to doing this. Having taken a vow at the start of the year to photograph every sunrise of 2017, he hasn’t missed one yet. The results are shared daily on his astonishing Instagram project, ‘The Sunrise Diaries’.

It’s one of Instagram’s best hidden gems – so far a few hundred lucky people have discovered it, and they’ve found that the little burst of gorgeous outdoors escapism it provides helps them to face the morning commute. As one follower comments: ‘I’m just waiting for your sunrise every day!’

Sunrise Diaries: Day 25 7:50 am.
Sunrise Diaries: Day 25 7:50 am. “Blackgang Island from Compton Down”. Copyright Neil Williams
6:50am Steephill Cove. Copyright Neil Williams

Although the project has already taken him as far as Portugal, most of the shots show the light streaming over the landscapes or seascapes of the Isle of Wight, where Neil lives and works. What he chooses to shoot can depend on the weather forecast.

On clear days he loves to photograph vast beaches bathed in astonishing colour and surfers performing acrobatics in the waves. But on cloudy mornings he might go inland to the island’s farms and valleys, shooting dawn rolling over the hills or weird trees emerging from the mist.

Day 39. 7:30am – Freshwater Bay. Copyright Neil Williams
 Day 57: 6:56am. Luccombe Farm. Copyright Neil Williams
Day 57: 6:56am. Luccombe Farm. Copyright Neil Williams

Yet following Neil is not just about a moment’s escapism into an image: it’s a voyage of discovery.

His Instagram posts include lovely little snippets of information – for example, beside the striking shot taken on Day 50 of the project he provides us with this: ‘In 1880 German industrialist William Spindler moved to St Lawrence and attempted at enormous expense to build a harbour. Of course it all had done by hand and shovel with an army of labourers. But it was destroyed by a storm before it could ever be used. I love this spot.’

Neil gives the image the title Binnel Bay Harbour Remains. Or “The Folly Of Man.”

Day 58. 6:54am - Binnel Bay Harbour Remains. Or
Day 58. 6:54am – Binnel Bay Harbour Remains. Or “The Folly Of Man”. Copyright Neil Williams

He never studied art or photography in any formal way, so how does he manage to get so many striking images? Patience, hard work and practice appear to be the most important things. Neil explains: ‘You need to get familiar with the light and your subject. This is the best bit. I can spend days walking miles and miles and take not a single picture. I might get up every morning and revisit the same spot a dozen times before I even get my camera out of the bag. It takes a patience which has to be practised.’

But the rewards are worth the wait. ‘The hard part really is being in the right place at the right time,’ says Neil. ‘When the light and weather and location all come together I can actually get the shakes. The picture is so obvious. Keep calm, put the camera on the tripod, compose the shot and shoot. Quickly: sometimes the show’s over in seconds. You know immediately you’ve caught something special.’

Day 51 7:08am St Catherine's Lighthouse. Copyright Neil Williams.
Day 51 7:08am St Catherine’s Lighthouse. Copyright Neil Williams.
Day 49 7:12am. 'One Man and His Dog. Brading Down.' Copyright Neil Williams
Day 49 7:12am. ‘One Man and His Dog. Brading Down.’ Copyright Neil Williams
Day 39 - 7.30am. 'Freshwater Wave'. Copyright Neil Williams
Day 39 – 7.30am. ‘Freshwater Wave’. Copyright Neil Williams

Neil sells prints online and in his shop on the Esplanade in Ventnor, a seaside town on the south of the Isle of Wight. He moved there from London with young family in 2012, having fallen in love with the island while on holiday. It does seem a pretty idyllic sort of life – waking with the birds, shooting the dawn and earning a living from doing what you love best.

We’re just grateful to Neil for sharing his sunrises with us every day on Instagram – it’s really very generous, when you think about it.


You can buy Neil’s fantastic landscape and other prints online – such as ‘Ventnor Sunrise’ (top) – on his website.  And make sure you follow his Sunrise Diaries on Instagram at @neilwilliamsphotography.

Neil Williams finds his perfect ‘Dorset State of Mind’ on the Isle of Wight, in the freezing dawn. But where do you find yours? Tell us about your favourite places, photographers or artists, either on social media or out in the real world – we’d love to share them…


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