May 6, 2014

Tips for Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets

Thinking Ahead – I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes you get wonderful sunrise and sunset shots just by luck, being in the right place at the right time. But often times the best ones come out of a little pre-planning.  If possible, try to scope out places that might be good for sunsets when you can, preferably at least a day or two before your shoot.  Look for interesting places where you might not only be able to see the sun track all the way down but where there will be opportunities for shots that include foreground elements and silhouettes. Sunsets only last for about a half an hour altogether so you want to think about these elements before they start or you might miss the shots you’re after. 

With the help of the Internet, you can easily find out when the sun will rise or set so you want to try to get there at least a half hour to 45 minutes beforehand to set up and get ready. Plus, often times, it’s in the lead up to and the time after the sun appears or disappears that the real magic happens. Another good tip is to keep an eye on the local weather reports. There are a variety of different types of sunsets and sunrises that produce all sorts of different types of lights and patterns in the sky. Don’t just go for clear days for these shots – while they can produce some wonderful colors, it’s usually the times where there are clouds around that the real action happens! Also be aware of places on days when there is dust or smoke in the air because that can also produce amazing results.

Experiment; try shooting a variety of focal lengths. Wide angle lenses can create sweeping landscape shots but if you want the sun to be the main feature of the shot you might want to be able to zoom right in, so bring along a zoom lens. Also, remember the rule of thirds when you’re photographing sunrises and sunsets. You know you always break the rule but it’s usually a good idea to place elements like the horizon, sun, silhouettes just a tad off center.

If you let your camera meter for you and let it decide what shutter speed to shoot at you’re likely to get a bunch of crappy shots that don’t really capture the beauty of the light you wanted in the first place. Remember, quite often the shot will be under exposed because the sky is still reasonably light. The great thing about sunsets and sunrises is that there is no one ‘right’ exposure.   

There are many ways to shoot sunsets and sunrises, so experiment. You can try bracketing your shots and combining them later in post for some great results also. To do this, try taking a series of shots at the same ƒ stop, but play around with the shutter speeds.  Don’t be afraid to try different white balance modes either. Sometimes when shooting in extreme lighting conditions, some cameras can have trouble focussing. If this is the case for your camera consider switching to manual focus. Myself, I like to pre-focus manually and take my camera off auto-focus. This way I’m almost guaranteed to get nice crisp shots.  

Last but not least, a tripod is a must-have for good sunset or sunrise photography. Sometimes when you accidently come across a beautiful sunset or sunrise you can improvise and use something to stabilize your camera, but you really need a nice sturdy tripod. When I’m shooting  I always take along a cable release to insure I get the sharpest photos possible. Remember, most of the time you’ll want good depth of field so you’ll be shooting at small apertures from ƒ/8 - ƒ/22 or better and you want to avoid any camera shake if you can. Of course, these are just some suggestions, but the bottom line is to get out there and practice.

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography