Five Photography Tips For Shooting Stunning Sunrises
The alarm clock buzzes early. Very early… Too early! You weakly open your eyes, barely remember who and where you are, and most importantly why you’ve set up the alarm that early. Well at least this is what happens to me every single time I weak up (or try) for a sunrise shoot!
I love shooting sunrises, but they can be hard to capture, it takes some effort to build the habit of shooting at the earliest hours of the day, but trust me it’s totally worth it. I want to share 5 photography tips for capturing amazing sunrises, maybe you can get more motivated and start your journey to sunrise photography or maybe you can learn something new. Follow these steps and you will definitely achieve great results with your photos.
My 5 photography tips for capturing sunrises
It applies to any style of photography and could be also considered part of your planning, but you can do it anytime really. Use Instagram, 500px (here’s my profiles Instagram, 500px) and Google images to see what other photographers have done in that location. Feed your brain with great images, check the work of expert photographers and don’t be afraid of not being original, you can shoot a place a hundred times and I guarantee you will obtain all different results. The light is always going to be different, the sky, the weather in general are constantly creating different scenarios for us to capture our amazing images. You can save on your computer or on your phone screenshots of some of your favourite artists’ work and try to study what they have in common, try to see which effect or result you think you might be able or you might enjoy trying to reproduce and go for it.
Plan in advance
Usually the best sunrise and sunset shots come out of planning. Be mindful of all the aspects, what you will bring with you, how to reach the desired location, where to park your car, how the light will be and the composition you would like to create. You’ve got enough inspiration from the step before and sometimes it’s useful to try and “draw” in your mind the final image you want to obtain.
Study what some of the possible compositions could be so that you’ll get an idea of what you want to achieve. If it’s my first time I go to a location, I always try to know as much as I can about it. I do my research, from where to park my car to how to reach the place and what could be the possible angles to shoot.
Make sure that everything is in your bag from the night before, all your gear, extra batteries for your camera (make sure to charge them), filters, tripod and that you know exactly at what time is the sunrise and from which direction the sun gets up. I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can download the app for both iOS and Android at this link, it’s a fantastic tool that tells you the exact direction from where the sun will illuminate your composition. If possible it’s also really important to know if the sky is going to be clear or covered with clouds. A cloudy sky can be a really beautiful addition to your background, but a sky entirely obscured by clouds is not going to let the light through and I would look dull.
The first thing I do when I arrive on location is to take a few photos to study my composition and analyse a few possible angles. Only afterwards, I decide where exactly I want to position my tripod (you can’t shoot a sunrise or a sunset without a tripod, more on that later). Since I’ve arrived early I have time to change my viewpoint if after a few clicks I am not happy with the initial results. Sometimes we don’t realise that maybe there’s a better vantage point close to us, a better angle just a few meters from where we are and that would make our final composition look so much better.
Arrive early on location
I know this might sound obvious but trust me it’s not easy to achieve and I promise we’ll talk about camera settings in a second. Arriving early on location is probably one of the most important rules of landscape photography. It happened to me as well and I see so many photographers getting to the spot at the last second when the good light is just about to come up and I see them struggle with setting up their cameras since they’re in a rush and they fear they are going to miss the shot. It’s not easy I get it, but for sunrises (or sunsets) it is crucial to be there at the right time to capture the proper light. Sometimes it’s a matter of minutes if not seconds. You must be on the spot at least 30 minutes before sunrise. Ready, with everything already set up.
Yes because setting up your camera can take time and if you’re in a rush you might risk to forget something important. After setting up your camera on you tripod you must define your composition and probably if it’s a popular location, there will be other photographers already occupying the best vantage points. You’ll get really surprised from how many people actually planned to go shooting the same location.
There’s nothing worse than finding you can’t take photos from the angle you wanted because someone is already there. Trust me, read about one of my early morning adventures in New Zealand here. So wake up on time and arrive early! 😉
Use a tripod when shooting sunrises
Sunrises (and sunsets) create beautiful colours in the sky and cast that wonderful golden light that makes your photos look stunning. But the intensity of light is little, compared to other hours of the day. You must shoot long exposures and to ensure your camera is completely still, a tripod is what you need. Without a tripod I could never have shot some of the amazing sunrises I was lucky to admire. Check one of my favourite sunrises here.
These are the settings I generally use to capture a landscape at sunrise. Try to experiment with them too.
Aperture and Shutter speed: I like to shoot landscapes in Aperture Priority Mode. I set the aperture value and the camera decides the appropriate shutter speed.
I like it this way because I have an easier control on the Depth of Field (DOF). For a landscape, I always want everything in focus and I achieve that by shooting from f/8 to f/22 depending on the effect I want to obtain. In Aperture Priority Mode, the camera will decide how long the exposure must be.
ISO = 200 with long shutter speed you don’t need high ISO.
I shoot with an Olympus OE-M EM1 Mark II and the minimum ISO value is 200. Set the ISO to the lowest setting possible. It can be 200, 100 or 50, depending on your camera, that will give you the sharpest possible result. This is another reason you always need a tripod for a sunrise or sunset landscape. Shooting at low ISO in Aperture Priority mode will lower the shutter speed, meaning you cannot hand hold your camera or your final image will be blurred.
Use an ND Filter. For best results, you need a Neutral Density filter. ND filters give you control over the exposure and creative control over the shutter speed.
Using a filter will make it so the quantity of light that hits the sensor of your camera is reduced, hence the camera will increase the exposure time (decreasing the shutter speed).
Don’t stop shooting
Experiment with different focal lengths, different angles, shoot also when the sun is already high in the sky because the light will be constantly changing and you can obtain different effects. Also remember, going back to a location will always give you a different scenario. It will never be the same as the time before. Keep shooting!
I hope that my sunrise photography tips will be helpful to you. If you would like to know more about the camera I use, read my review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II
Ask me questions in the comments below or simply share your experience if you want. I will be really happy to read about it.