7 Tips for Perfect Sunrise and Sunset Photos

by

“Early Madness”
© Copyright Camil Seisanu

Everyone loves beautiful sunrise and sunset photos. And sure, it’s easy to go outside when the sun is coming up or going down, snap the shutter, and appreciate the photos. But if your photos don’t always look as good as you think they should, heed these 7 tips from Yanik’s Photo School. Then you too can shoot beautiful sunrise and sunset photos like Camil Seisanu’s “Early Madness” shown above.

I have listed the tips below in a prioritized order.

1. Scouting. It’s very important to plan ahead and look for the perfect places to capture the rising and setting sun. Consider the path the sun will take during the day and verify that you can shoot around any obstacles, such as buildings and trees. Keep in mind that the sun’s path varies throughout the year. For example, during the winter, the sun stays lower on the horizon. Check your local weather forecast for the daily times of sunrises and sunsets; Yahoo! Weather is a good resource for that.

2. Composition. Composition is key for great photos, especially sunrise and sunset photos. For these photos, we have a tendency to shoot in (horizontal) landscape format, but it’s also a good idea to get creative and try shooting in (vertical) portrait format, as Camil has done with his photo above. Also try using the Rule of Thirds, instead of centering the sun in the middle of your photos. Learn more about composition in the Photobird Daily article “Composition Is Key“.

3. Arrive early and stay late. Don’t pack up and leave right when the sun goes down. The color show is just about to begin! Some of the best colors will appear before the sun rises and after it sets. Stick around for a while and keep shooting because the colors will change, even slightly, every minute. Bring your tripod along as it will help you use longer shutter speeds to capture more light when the sky is darker.

4. Look behind you. Yes, while you think all the action might be where the sun is headed, when you turn around, you’ll see the radiant colors that the sun is painting on the landscape. You may see a building in a vibrant orange color or the sun coloring the clouds above. The best, most colorful light is usually when the sun is low on the horizon, or even just below the horizon.

5. Exposure. Try underexposing your shots between 1 and 2 stops to get rich, vibrant colors. Or you can try overexposing your shots which will result in pastel, less saturated colors. To do this easily, use the EV (Exposure Value) button if you have one on your camera. It’s something you need to experiment with to get the effect you are looking for.

6. Setting your white balance. You should also experiment with different white balance settings to get the look you desire. Keep in mind that as the sun moves through the sky, you may find it necessary to change your white balance setting to adjust for the color tones in the sky and landscape around you. If you have a camera with presets, you should try the “Sunset” preset. One of the first things I do when I pick up a camera is change the white balance setting to “Cloudy”, which saturates the colors in the scene and makes them more vibrant. If you shoot in RAW format, you can change the white balance setting later in software on your computer. As with most things in photography, you’ll need to experiment with the white balance setting to get your desired look.

7. Don’t look straight at the sun! No one looks directly at the sun even with sunglasses on, and we shouldn’t look directly at the sun with cameras either. You could damage your eyesight, and your camera can be damaged by direct sunlight through the lens if exposed for too long. Basically, if it would hurt your eyes by looking at it, then don’t photograph it. Most people can look at sunrises and sunsets because the sun is low on the horizon, or below the horizon, and the earth’s atmosphere diffuses the sunlight so it’s not as powerful as if it was at full strength at mid-day.

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