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How to take spectacular pictures of sunrises and sunsets

With a little enthusiasm and a lot of knowledge, anyone can master the art of sunrise and sunset photography. Here are some tips and tricks for taking spectacular pictures of sunsets and sunrises.

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Taking pictures of the Sun isn't hard.
©iStockphoto.com/Jacom Stephens

Safety first!

There are some precautions you must take before you set out with your camera to capture the Sun with your camera:

  • Never look at the sun directly or without any protective eyewear, as it can cause permanent damage to the eyes.
  • Wear a hat, carry water with you and frequently apply sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburns and harmful UV rays.
  • Always check the weather before you set out. Avoid extreme weather and always take weather-appropriate clothing with you.

Please excercise caution and common sense while taking pictures of the Sun. If you have any health concerns make sure you consult your doctor or specialist.

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Getting started - the equipment

The first thing to think about when starting sunrise and sunset photography is to get the right equipment. Here is a list of basic equipment you must have:

  • First and foremost, protective eyewear! Looking at the Sun directly with your naked eyes, through sunglasses or the view finder of your camera can be dangerous. Solar filters for your eyes can be found at specialty and science stores. You can also use welder's glasses (only number 14) to keep your eyes protected while viewing the Sun.

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  • A camera, of course! You don't have to have a high end camera to take good pictures of the Sun. Experts recommend getting a DSLR camera.
  • A tripod. While it is possible to take pictures of the Sun while holiding your camera in your hands, photographers suggest using a tripod to improve picture quality and to avoid unintentional blurring due to a shaky hand.
  • Using a remote trigger can help reduce accidental shakes of the camera.
  • Solar filters for your camera. Camera lenses can also suffer severe damage if they are pointed directly at the sun. To avoid this, make sure you use appropriate solar filters for your lenses.
  • Extra memory for your camera, so you can take as many pictures as you want without having to run out of space.

Once you have all your equipment ready, it is time to head into the open (or your backyard) and start taking pictures of the Sun. But, wait there's more! Having all the necessary equipment doesn't mean you are ready to take frame worthy pictures of the sunrise and sunset, you must know when and what to capture and how.

Getting the perfect picture

Getting a perfect picture of the sunrise or the sunset takes some practice and work. Here are some things you need to keep in mind before you set out with your camera:

  • Timing: Timing is vital for sunrise and sunset photography. Use timeanddate.com’ sunrise and sunset calculator to find out the exact timing of sunrise and sunset at your location. Scout out your location the previous day. Try to arrive on location early so that you can set up your equipment on time.

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  • Composition: Veteran photographers recommend finding a foreground while taking pictures of the sky during sunrises and sunsets. Find an object that stands above the horizon and has a distinct shape. The object can be anything - another person, an animal, birds, trees, buildings or even hills. Avoid artificial lights, including traffic lights.

    Many photographers also suggest following the rule of thirds while taking pictures of sunsets and sunrises. Very simply, the rule of thirds calls for dividing a frame into 9 equal parts by drawing 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines. The rule states that the best pictures have their subjects on the intersection of these lines.

  • Focus: While most cameras these days have autofocus features, but if it doesn't work, especially while taking pictures of the Sky, some photographers recommend setting the camera on a manual setting and focusing the camera on infinity to lock the focus. This can help avoid blurry photos.
  • Light metering: Exposure is important while taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. Photographers recommend manually checking your camera's metering setting to set the exposure. This is especially important when taking pictures of clouds, halos and light pillars, zodiacal lights and when trying to capture the vivid colors of sunrises and sunsets. The camera's meter determines the light available to take a picture and adjusts the exposure accordingly.

    To do this, experts suggest pointing the camera to the part of the sky that is still slightly dark. Make sure that the Sun is just outside the frame. You can now use the exposure settings of the camera for taking picture of the Sun.

  • Exposure: Under-exposure can add rich and dramatic colors to the photograph. Long exposure is best used during sunsets. If your camera has a built-in flash, set the exposure to underexpose the background and allow the flash to provide the correct exposure for foreground detail. A wider aperture can throw the background subtly out of focus with flash to create better exposure for a foreground object. Do not over expose the sky and give emphasis to the Sun. It is also recommended to set the camera to the smallest aperture to give a greater depth of field.

Tips from the pros

  • Some weather patterns are thought to be good for taking sunrise and sunset pictures. For example, many photographers believe that the best sunrises and sunsets occur after thunderstorms and rain. Early morning mist and fog can also enhance photographs of sunrises.
  • Do not leave right after the Sun has dipped below the horizon. Wait for city lights to come on and you can take cityscapes with the twilight sky in the background.
  • Use water to your advantage. If you are near a lake or the beach, use the water to take pictures of reflections of the sky. Go as near to the water body as you can.

Topics: Astronomy, Sun

In this Article



  1. Explanation of astronomical terms
  2. A handy guide to measuring the sky
  3. Types of twilight, dawn and dusk
  4. What is the midnight Sun?
  5. How to tell time by the stars
  6. Solar analemma
  7. Photographing sunsets and sunrises
  8. Equation of time

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