Sunset and sunrise photos – how to take great shots with your camera

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5 Tips to take great sunset and sunrise photographs

Images of sunrise and sunset are an inexhaustible subject in photography. The six best tips explained here for taking shots at dawn or dusk are based on my own experience and experimentation with advice I have taken from publications by professional photographers like Jim Zuckerman, John Shaw and others.

Knowing your place, taking control of light exposure and an open receptive approach to the scenery to make best use of the landscape elements for composition seem to be the key for good sunset or sunrise photography.

The image with a sunrise sky on the left was taken with a Fuji x20 camera, f2.2,1/105 sec and Fuji Velvia film simulation.

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Tip 1 for sunset/sunrise images : Be prepared

Know the place and the time of sunset or sunrise

Being prepared can make a huge difference in sunset photography.
It is the difference between missing the best moment, not having the right lens with you and not being at the best place.

The best light on sunset or sunrise only lasts for a limited time span at dusk or dawn. Knowing the exact time when the light “peaks” and then being at the right place with the best view on time i.e. early enough before the shot to get yourself and your camera in position and ready is key for great shots.
The astronomic duration ( time that is taken to show or hide the full sun disk) varies between
A couple of minutes at places close to the equator and 30 minutes in polar regions on the north or south hemisphere. Duration of sunrise and sunset, graphic chart

A photographer might make use also of the light before and after the strictly astronomic duration of sunset or sunrise. However the best light and best position of the sun might only occur in a very narrow time window as other conditions might change too as for example moving clouds that can reflect the beautiful warm or cool colors. Architecture and other landscape elements might only be in best position for a short time.

On sunset the colors get more and more intense the lower the sun goes down, on sunrise the best colors might show already a bit before the full sun is visible. For that reason it is always good to be early at the right place lets say 30 minutes before the drama is taking place.

Only when you know more or less exactly where the sun will show up or go down on you will be able to choose the best position for your image composition. Therefore it is likely you will shoot your best photo not on the first evening but on the second or third evening as you know the place of best position by then.

The Fuji x 20 - Premium compact camera for landscape and people photography

I bought this camera in addition to a Nikon D90. Both cameras have a 12 Megapixel Sensor. However the sensor of the Fuji x20 is much smaller than the NIKON Sensor.

Nevertheless the Fuji x20 produces a very fine image quality that comes very close to my Nikon camera. Only at ISO higher than 200 in very large magnifications image noise gets clearly stronger in images taken with the Fuji camera. In many reviews you can read that the Fuji is great up to ISO 800.

As the maximum aperture of the lens starts at 2.0 I haven't met a situation in landscape photography that would force me to go further than ISO 200 with the Fuji camera.

Tip 2 - Take control of exposure and avoid camera shake for sharp sunset images

The right exposure is a banality in taking photographic images. But when it comes to scenery with extremely dark and bright areas ( large dynamic range) as it is given on sunrise and sunset small differences can spoil your image. Typically bleached out or pale sky colours are signs of shots that have gone wrong (overexposure). Underexposure might give you strong colours in the sky, but also often very dark or black foreground. In many cases we have to live with a correctly exposed sky and sun and tolerate an underexposed foreground as the camera sensors cannot reproduce the full dynamic range of natural light.

There are ways to circumvent this technical obstacle by taking images series with different exposure. Many cameras have settings for so called bracketing i.e. the camera with take a series of images with faster or lower shutter speed around the original exposure in certain f/stop intervals (+/- 1/3 etc.). Even if you think that you have found the best combination of ISO, shutter speed and aperture it is still a good idea to do exposure bracketing.

The higher the ISO the more grainy the image can get. This depends on the quality of your camera gear. Nowadays most cameras are so advanced that ISO 400 will still give good results. However I try to stay with ISO 100 as long as I can. Only if I have no tripod with me that would allow slow shutter speeds I would go up in ISO to max 400. If that is not enough to get a short enough expose time of faster than 1/60 of a second I prefer to take underexposed shots which I then try to correct with Photoshop elements later.

For really very sharp images the use of a tripod is always a good idea. If you have no tripod on site you might want to place the camera on a rock or a fence whatever might be suitable. Use the self-timer feature to get an exposure with any camera shake.

TIP 3 Include the sun if you can

Colorful skies at sunrise and sunset can be fascinating even if the sun is not visible in the image. But if it is possible to include the sun in the image I would always prefer that option as it adds so much to the image. Of course it can be very difficult to take such an image as the direct look at the sun disk might bleach out the colors and it will cause lens flare in many cases.

Lens flare can look great though and can be a used as a design feature. Often unwanted spots of lens flare can be removed later with image editing software. But you can also take steps to control lens flare on site by moving under a tree and out your camera in shade of foliage or branches in a way the sun is still visible but your camera lens is in shade and thus the lens flare is eliminated.

The images of the foggy sunrise were taken with the Fuji x20 at aperture 9.0 because I wanted to get the grass in the foreground as sharp as possible even though I focused on the trees. The shutter speed was 1/500 for the shot without the sun and 1/800 when the sun was included. The pale disk of the sun caused no lens flare. I learned that morning that going out even though fog is most probably preventing a great sunrise is still a good idea.

Foggy sunrise - include the sun in your image

Jim Zuckerman explains shooting at sunrise

This is by far the most comprehensive video tutorial I have found taking great images at sunrise with high dynamic range
Photography How-To - Jim Zuckerman photographs Portland Head Light at Sunrise
by Master Photo Workshops | video info
167 ratings | 31,861 views
curated content from YouTube

TIP 4. Search for bold graphic silhouettes and intriguing fore- or backgrounds

The colorful skies that the rays of a low sun can produce are fascinating alone already, but a really great image lives from strong graphic foreground shapes or interesting landscape scenery. Often dark or even black silhouettes of trees, people, architecture or boats on a beach add so much to a sunset image. Even rocks and grass can make the difference.

The image on the right was taken at sunrise. The disk of the sun is not fully visible yet the sun rays on that winter morning were strong enough to evaporate the hoar frost on a pile of dung to steam. I used my Nikon camera and a tripod for this shot. There was a strong spot of lens flare in the lower right of the image on the straw and dung which I removed with Photoshop elements.

The next image below (hunting perch at sunrise) was taken with the Fuji x20. The f/stop was 3.2, the shutter speed at 1/170. I reduced the exposure by -2/3 with the exposure control wheel. The shot was taken without tripod. I pointed the camera to the brightest parts of the sky first and locked the exposure with the AE/AF button , then I pointed the autofocus to the trees and locked the focus by pushing the release button half way down. Only then I composed the final image by pushing the landscape way down in the image to include as much of the colored sky as possible and then pushed the shutter release to the final point to get the shot.

Hunting perch at sunrise

Soft light on a foggy morning sunrise

Tip 5. Experiment with lenses of different focal length from wide angle to tele lens.

Fairly small changes in camera position can make a big difference in an image, but also changing the focal length of your lens can have a dramatic effect on the image. I find zoom lenses very convenient to experiment with different focal lengths. If the scenery is not satisfying or the sunset colors are not that great or do not spread over the whole sky it is always worth while to experiment with a tele lens. With a tele lens you can isolate details of the landscape and use the colored sky as dramatic background

The image on the right was taken with a 200 mm lens (ca. 300 mm equivalent for 35 mm film size) aperture 5.6,shutter speed 1/60 and exposure correction of -1/3. I pressed the camera to a tree trunk to reduce camera shake.

In general it is a good idea to take many different shots from different perspective and with different focal lengths to learn and find out how to get your unique sunset or sunrise image.

The sunset and sunrise photography link list - not ultimate yet

Jim Zuckerman on Landscape Photography: Shooting into the Sun
Jim Zuckerman,professional nature and wildlife photographer, explains various ways to shoot images with the sun included
Exposing for Sunrises and Sunsets
Another tutorial by Jim Zuckerman especially for sunset and sunris situation
25 Tips for creating memorable sunrise & sunset photographs
Cool tips around sunrise and sunset photography, not so much about camera settings, but how to make the most of the phenomenon
Sunset photos on Instagram: Why they're so hard to get right.
When I signed up for an Instagram account last week, my colleagues told me what to expect. "Your feed will be 50 percent pictures of food, 25 percent selfies, and 25 percent sunsets," they said. (There were variations: "Twenty-five percent pictures of food, 25 percent urban flotsam

Thanks for looking, I hope you enjoyed the visit... feel free to leave a comment or your specific tip here

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  • patgoltz Feb 24, 2014 @ 1:08 am
    Lots of good pointers. Thank you.
  • MissMerFaery Feb 21, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
    Love this! Absolutely wonderful photographs.
  • Anonymous831 Feb 20, 2014 @ 9:50 pm
    Beautiful photography. I enjoy photography in every aspect.
  • Sylvestermouse Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:34 am
    Lovely photography and awesome tips! I will have to be sure and thank Mary Beth for featuring this awesome article on Review This! today.
  • RenaissanceWoman2010 Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:30 am
    I really must do more bracketing so I can stack images. That would help with sky bleaching. Excellent photos and tips. Congrats on your honors.
  • AnitaJax Feb 15, 2014 @ 2:16 am
    Wonderful images. There is really no substitute for getting out and experimenting.
  • LynnKK Feb 13, 2014 @ 9:54 am
    Thanks so much for sharing these tips. I try hard with my photography but am still pretty much of am amateur. Congratulation on LotD.
  • d-artist Feb 11, 2014 @ 6:36 pm
    Congratulations on LOTD! Sunset and Sunrise are my favorite time of day...your photos are beautiful and great tips on how to...thanks for sharing!
  • rachelmagnifique18 Feb 11, 2014 @ 5:52 pm
    Beautiful :)
  • EditionH Feb 11, 2014 @ 2:02 am
    Thanks a lot for all the visits,comments and ratings. Also I am more than grateful that you pointed out to the embarrassing typos, which should be gone by now.

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