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Friday, November 9, 2012

10 Tips for Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets

Today I have a guest post to share with you, written by my dad. My love of photography is definitely the result of my dad's passion for the art form. My dad has been taking beautiful photographs since before I was born. He has the winning combination of an artistic eye and a technical mind which allows him to create beautiful compositions while utilizing the functions of his camera. Since he recently won 1st place in a local photography competition for one of his sunset photos, I asked him to share some tips on how to capture picture perfect sunrises and sunsets...

So my daughter asked me if I wouldn't mind writing an article for her blog. I have enjoyed reading her articles and viewing the descriptive photographs that she has included to visually explain the procedure for building her various crafts. I have to think that maybe I had a little bit to do with her ability to take really nice pictures. I thought I would discuss with you today one of my photography passions...taking sunrise and sunset pictures. There is a bit of a process that will benefit anyone wanting to take on one of those early morning or late evening pictures...So here goes.

1. Camera Type: I have experimented with all kinds of cameras over the years. I have used everything from a very expensive Nikon SLR (film and digital) to the cheapest little digital hand held camera. In all instances I have been able to get good results. What it really boils down to is having a good understanding of how the camera you're using works. Practice, practice, practice makes for the best results.

2. Always Carry Your Camera: How many times have you been somewhere and said, "I wish I had my camera"? Well this goes for sunrise/sunset pictures as well. With all the technology crammed into the small cameras these days it is easier than ever to throw your camera in your purse or in your back pocket. Nothing is more frustrating than when you are standing there looking at the most amazing sunset and your camera is sitting at home on your desk.

3. Plan Ahead: Sunrises require you to be on-site well before the actual sun comes onto the horizon. Many times your sunrise photo will include dramatically lit clouds without the sun having yet come into the picture. In the case of a sunset you generally need to be patient even after the sun has settled into the horizon. Same scenario as the sunrise...just backwards. Some of the most dramatic colors on the clouds come into play 5 to 10 minutes before or after your sun has arrived or disappeared from sight.

4. Composition: The composition of a sunset picture can be as important as the fiery colors that you are out to acquire. For the most part everything surrounding the colors of the sunset will be a silhouette, so it makes sense to think if you want to include those items in the picture. Also bear in mind that water can be used dramatically. Reflective water allows for increased potential of colors in your pictures as well as the possibility of unique effects due to ripples or waves.

5. Exposures: If your camera is capable of camera adjustment, try and take an array of different exposures. Sometimes a '1/3rd or '2/3rd exposure will give you a much more rich and vibrant display of colors. If your camera has auto exposure it might make sense to aim the camera at the blue sky above the sunrise/sunset, lightly hold down the exposure lock button, then reposition the camera for the picture and shoot. You will probably get a picture with much more rich pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows to show for it.

6. Bracketing: On many of the newer pocket cameras (as well as advanced SLR cameras) there is an "auto bracketing" feature. This feature allows you to take 3 to 5 exposures simultaneously that will reflect a slight difference in the exposure. Since time is valuable and the amount of light in a sunrise/sunset is constantly changing, the more pictures you can take in a short duration, the more apt you are to get a perfectly exposed photo. Practice makes perfect on this.

7. Filters: There are a number of filters out on the market that allow you to capture a variety of effects on your photo. Several of the pictures that I have included in this article were taken with a small pocket camera and a filter that I held in front of the lense. Filters probably require the greatest amount of experimentation. Some filters adjust colors, some filters adjust the amount of light and some filters allow special effects (example: a beam of light bursting across the photo). Again practice makes perfect when using filters.

8. White Balance: Most cameras can be adjusted for the type of light that the picture is being shot in. In the case of sunrises/sunsets it sometimes makes the most sense to turn off the auto white feature and use the cloudy or sunny setting. In the case of the cloudy setting you start with more blue hues in the photo. When you add the colors of the sunrise/sunset you get a much more vivid range of color hues, thus making a more dramatic photo.

9. Tripod: Just consider it an extra pair of hands that is holding your camera focused on the composition you have selected. This way you can pay more attention to all the other factors that will improve the photograph quality.

10. Don't Worry...Be Happy: Unless you are a wedding photographer, don't sweat it. Taking pictures should be fun. Practice makes perfect and there is always another sunrise tomorrow morning! Happy Trails!


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write out all these tips!! So useful!!

  2. Brilliant advice. Thank you so much x

  3. Sunsets and sunrises give us such a tremendous sense of awe. As sunsets and sunrises are so transient, and each one unique, we'll never get tired of gazing on, and reveling in each one.

    WOW! Gene, you've really captured some of the best here, and you've blessed us by sharing them. I'll have to find some of those settings you've recommended, on my camera, and start experimenting!

    Thanks, once again, for sharing the talents of your creative family with us, Rebekah!


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