Sunrise and Sunset Photography

As winter winds it way thru, I start thinking of upcoming photography trips. One of the main reasons for the trips is to get some landscape images. The best time to do this is either in the early mornings for sunrise or late afternoon and sunsets. Nothing is more spectacular than watching the sunrise or set, especially when there are some clouds on the horizon.

There is not a lot of equipment needed for a sunrise photo, your camera, tripod, cable release, flashlight and a wide angle to telephoto lens. The important task is to find a location that will work for sunrise or sunset. I use an iPhone app to locate where the sun will either rise or set. The apps are Sunseeker or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. They both work well, Sunseeker does not need a cell signal to work as much as The Photographer’s Ephemeris does, since it uses google maps. So if I am in a location where the cell signal is low then i use Sunseeker, otherwise I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Once I know where the sun rises or sets, I will look for a location with an interesting background or something that would make the image more exciting. I will usually do this driving around or using google earth to find possible locations and mark them down and check the time that the sun will be rising or setting.

Let’s start with sunrise, I am not a morning person, so this is the harder one for me, but worth it. You need to plan for the amount of time it will take to get to your location and to get set up. Usually I like to get there at least 1/2 hour to a full hour before sunrise, the minutes before the sun comes up can give you spectacular color, especially if there are clouds in the sky, plus you need time to set up your equipment, since it will be dark a flashlight come in handy, and you don’t want to have to rush to get set up, so give your self plenty of time to get ready. You want to have a fairly low ISO setting, which is why you will need a tripod and cable release. I will usually shoot in Aperture preferred Automatic and start with a 0 exposure compensation, but as the sun rises, I will watch my histogram and will start cutting exposure depending on how large the sun is in my frame, I will shoot a lot of frames and most of the time, I will shoot HDR, with an exposure of 1 stop over, Normal and 1 stop under. This serves a couple of purposes. One would be if my exposure is off, I have three choices to choose from, or I can combine all three into one image using an HDR plugin such as Photomatix. I will shoot a lot of different compositions and hope for a colorful sunrise, sometimes you will get lucky other times you might not, you could also get complete overcast or even rain, I will still usually go out there, because you never know what the clouds will do, they could break just at the right moment. I will continue to shoot till about an hour or so after the sun has risen. Then I can go back to my room or go get some breakfast and go through my images.

Clingmans Dome Sunset

For Sunset it is about the same but reverse. I usually like to get there an hour or more before sunset, especially if there are cloud nearby, I will try different compositions and will bracket the same as my sunrise images. I will continue shooting till after the sun has gone completely down. I won’t pack up yet, because now you want to wait for the after glow, which will sometimes happen about 30 minutes to an hour after sunset. The sun can light up the back of the clouds to give you some amazing color, so while everyone else is packing up to leave, I will wait and hope to get that amazing color.

A couple of warnings when doing sunrise and sunsets, do not stare at the sun for long periods of time through the camera lens, you can burn the back of the eyeball, the lens will focus all that light to a pinpoint and you can really hurt yourself. It can also burn your sensor on your camera if it get pinpointed in the camera, it does not happen to often, but it only takes just once. Make sure you have a flashlight, the trails can be dark either before or after you finish shooting and you don’t want to hurt yourself, coming from or going to the sunrise/set.

So go out and get up early and stay out late at night to get those beautiful sunrise’s or sunset’s and make sure you enjoy yourself while you are doing it.

Rock and Sunset