Sunset and Sunrise Photography
Taking beautiful photos of sunrises and sunsets is surprisingly easy—even with a mobile camera.
It is the light and location, not the equipment, which makes a good sunrise or sunset picture. And with today's smartphones, you don't even need an advanced camera to capture a beautiful sky.
Plan Your Pictures
Whether you have a smartphone or a more advanced camera, planning is the key to a successful shot.
- Find the sunrise and sunset times. If you use a compass to angle your camera, make sure to take into account magnetic declination.
- The golden hour, when the Sun is close to the horizon, makes the light magical.
- The blue hour is a darker stage of twilight where blue light dominates.
- Check the weather! Clouds that catch the sunlight can add a beautiful touch to the sky. Early morning mist and fog can add interest to landscapes.
- Meet up at least a half an hour before you plan to start shooting.
- Scout your location. Lakes, the ocean, windows, and buildings reflect light and add extra oomph to your picture.
- Find the Sun and its exact location in the sky.
Composing Your Image
- Take your time. Make sure you have plenty of time at the location and take test shots to decide the composition of your photo.
- Rule of thirds. By placing your subject off-center, either a third or two-thirds into the image, it can help your image be more dynamic.
- Straighten your camera. Crooked horizons wreck a good shot.
- Add a foreground. Trees, people, or buildings silhouetted against the colorful sky can add depth to your photo. This is a common trick used by professional photographers.
Using a Smartphone or Compact Camera
Smartphones and small compact cameras have a wide lens and a small sensor, so the Sun will look quite small in your images. However, you can play to the strengths of your mobile phone by catching the light.
- Find interesting scenery. Compose your image by including trees, buildings, or reflections.
- Turn off the flash. The flash will disturb the natural light.
- Move the lens. Let the Sun hit the edge of the lens to create lens flare.
- Turn around. Sometimes the best picture is behind you.
- Not happy with the result? Play around and try again.
A good digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) can give more control over the image components.
- Use the big lens. A focal length equivalent of 200 mm or more helps the Sun look large in the image.
- Stabilize. Put your camera on a tripod or another stable surface like a fence or the ground. Use your timer, a shutter with a cord, or a remote to minimize camera movement.
- Keep adjusting the aperture. As the Sun rises, it gets brighter, and you need a smaller aperture. As the Sun goes down, it gets darker, and a wider aperture is needed.
- Manual exposure. Expose for the Sun and sky, and set the focus on your subject. Underexposure results in richer colors.
- Flash highlights. A flash can be used to light up your subject, set the exposure for the Sun and sky.
- High resolution. To capture as much information and detail as possible, set your camera to the highest resolution (jpeg) or take uncompressed images (tiff or raw).
- Keep shooting! Play around with different exposures and focus on various subjects. The light changes continuously.
- Edit your images. You can also crop, add contrast, tweak colors, layer, and so much more, by processing your images using photo processing software.