Sunset and Sunrise Photography Tips

sunset and sunsire photo

“Shining Through” captured by Katelyn Wall (Click Image to See More From Katelyn Wall)

Photographing sunsets and sunrises can produce some of the most beautiful images you will take. Surprisingly, these wonderful scenes are not that difficult to photograph. This article will give you a few tips to make your sunset and sunrise images the best they can be.

First, be aware that you should not look directly at the sun when it is still bright yellow in the sky. This can cause permanent eye damage even when you are looking through the camera view finder. Wait until the sun is close to the horizon with a reddish color when the rays are not as strong. Or take the picture when the sun is partially blocked behind an object like a building.

Plan Ahead

Most of the time you will not normally be in the best place to get great shots when the sun is setting or rising. More than likely there will be buildings, wires, poles and other things in the way that would detract from the picture.Take note of the time the sun sets or rises in your area. Then choose a location and pick a day to go out and take the pictures. Get there early and try to visualize a few shots before the show begins. The most dramatic coloring of the sky and other areas in the scene only lasts about a half hour, but you should take some shots before and after the sun sets or rises. There will still be some pretty lighting around.

The best places to take the pictures would be beaches, plains, deserts, or anywhere there is less obstruction of the views. However, you can get great sunset and sunrise pictures anywhere if you are creative and know a little about picture composition. You might be able to use those “obstructions” in your picture and wind up with a picture that is more than just the sun on a beach.

Clouds

The sunlight reflections on clouds can be very dramatic. You never know what cloud formations will be in the sky from day to day. Sometimes there will be thick clouds, other times wisps of clouds. No matter what type, when the sun is setting or rising you will see an amazing light show. Take plenty of shots from various views and angles. Remember that in that dramatic half hour or so, the clouds could be moving and the sun will definitely be sinking or rising, so the tone and amount of light will vary. So don’t just settle for one or two nice shots. You could be walking away from the best shot ever!

sunset photography tips

“Timeless” captured by ian newton (Click Image to See More From ian newton)

Composition

Try to avoid placing the horizon directly in the middle of the frame. Lowering the horizon to the lower third of the frame will emphasize the sky more and make a more pleasing image. If you are at the beach and want to emphasize reflections in the water, then you might want to raise the horizon to the upper third of the frame to emphasize the water. This is a part of the Rule of Thirds principle. However, just like any rule, it can be broken.

No matter where you place the horizon, try your best to keep it level across the frame of the picture. A horizon that is too slanted wont’ look natural and can ruin a beautiful picture.

Try placing objects in the foreground and use silhouettes. Although the sun and clouds in the sky is a great stand alone picture, an object such as a tree, a bird, a boat, or a person walking in the foreground can change the whole perspective of the picture. Also, look behind you,and look to the left and right. There might also be some nice scenery around you with beautiful colors. All pictures don’t have to be take in the direct path of the sun.

Exposure

One of the best things about photographing sunsets and sunrises is that there is no “proper exposure”. First of all, pointing your camera towards the sun will automatically fool your cameras light meter and cause the picture to be underexposed. The good news is that when taking these type pictures it can actually look pretty good when the image is underexposed. Any objects in the foreground will become silhouttes, creating another nice effect. However, you will want to have a little more control than having the meter continuously underexpose your pictures. If you have a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera, you can adjust your aperture and shutter speeds to various settings.

how to photograph sunsets

“Gold Rush” captured by Debra Vanderlaan (Click Image to See More From Debra Vanderlaan)

Take one or two pictures with the exposure settings the camera suggests. Then take one or two at different exposure settings to make the image lighter or darker than what the camera suggests. This is called bracketing. This will give you images a with a variety of different tones and shades to choose from. If you are using a Compact Digital Camera, you can do the same thing by using your camera’s Exposure Compensation function. After you take a couple of shots using the automatic exposure, set your camera to +1EV, or -1EV to have a variety of exposures to choose from.

White Balance

The white balance function in your camera might try to compensate for the extreme warm colors that are in a sunset or sunrise image. (It might think the colors are wrong and try to adjust them) If you have a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, you can adjust or turn off the white balance. If you are a Compact Digital camera user, usually setting the camera white balance to a daylight or cloudy setting will usually yield colors similar to the ones you are actually viewing.

Funny thing about sunsets and sunrises is that even when colors are slightly off, the effect is usually still appealing. (that is unless the sky shows as green). In any case these picture colors can be adjusted using some of the various post processing software available.

tips for sunrise photography

“Sunset” captured by Ornela Pagani (Click Image to See More From Ornela Pagani)

Take plenty of shots and experiment. The best thing about sunsets and sunrises is that the scenes are never the same from one day to another, but they are almost always beautiful.

About the Author:
Keith Jones writes for http://easybasicphotography.com. A site geared towards beginners through serious amateurs who want to learn a little more about basic digital photography.

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4 Comments

  1. Sascha Vogt says:

    Great Post!

    Since the exact position of sunrise and -set is wandering the whole year I like to use ephemerides to find the date(-range) when the sun will be in the best position for my compositions. Stephen Trainors Photographers Ephemeris (http://stephentrainor.com/tools/) is one free and excelent tool for Adobe Air which is also available for the iPhone. For Android there is EphemDroid, but this allows calculations only for the current location of the phone.

    Carrying a GPS and/or at least a small compass is also a good way estimate the potential of a location when the skies are covered. But while the GPS usually only notes the cameras position you should take a note of the direction you where shooting. This will not give you the best shot in first place, but will help you to decide when to come back an give it another try.

    Learn to read and estimate the skies from weather-satellite-pictures. There are several services online, but they usually only show the past. But if you learn to see the dynamics in it, you can start planing your 50km trip the evening before.

  2. Thanks for a great article. Especially the 1+- EV. I haven’t played too much with that yet. I’ll have to try this next time I’m out shooting. And the Timeless shot is just wonderful.

  3. This is a great article for sure. I loved playing with the reflection from the water. Similarly, as human beings who stand up and be visible reflections in the water. This, will look amazing!. I have bookmarked the site so that I can keep track of your progress in the future. Thanks and keep up the great work

  4. Very useful article. It is very hard for the photographer to estimate the position of clouds, sun and weather in general so you can shoot the best picture. I personally am very lucky since I have a friend who is studying meteorology and he is always very keen to help me. However you do not need to have a friend like this because usually the university itself releases forecasts that are very accurate and for free !

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