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Sunset and Sunrise Photography

Taking beautiful photos of sunrises and sunsets is surprisingly easy—even with a mobile camera.

A happy couple running through the waves on a sunlit beach.

Take great sunrise and sunset pics.

Take great sunrise and sunset pics.

©iStockphoto.com/vsurkov

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.
  • 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.

Composing Your Image

A man rock climbing at sunset.
Use silhouettes to add drama to your shot.
Expose for the sunrise and sunset and add details silhouetted against the sky.
©iStockphoto.com/NeagoneFo
  • 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.

DSLR Cameras

A good digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) can give more control over the image components.

A photographer taking pictures at sunset.
A DSLR gives better control of the results.
Using a DSLR gives more control over exposure and post production like cropping and editing.
©iStockphoto.com/Chalabala
  • 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.

Topics: Astronomy, Sun

Sunrise & Sunset Times

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