Untitled photo

Shooting The Sunrise (or Sunset)

Shooting the sun as it comes up, or goes down, can give you some of the most striking images around. The golden light that is emitted can create such warm colours that it can give relatively subdued scenery real drama and beauty. If there are clouds in the sky (a likely scenario in Scotland!) it can give the impression the sky is on fire and show off their continually undulating surfaces. Getting up for the sunrise can seem like a chore but if you are lucky enough to be able to get a nice clear sunrise then it is always made worthwhile.

Here are my top 4 tips when trying to capture the sun at its most beautiful... 

Tip 1 - Timing 

I suppose this is a very general tip that would go for any landscape photography but its all accentuated in the first minutes of the sunrise and the final minutes before sunset.

Then you need to check is what time the sun will be rising or setting where you are planning to shoot (a quick Google of your location and either "sunrise" or "sunset" will sort you out eg. Edinburgh sunrise). Make sure you get there at least 30 mins before hand to get to the right location (more on that later), set up and get the settings right.

Tip 2 - Location & Composition

Again, this is pretty generic but when you are shooting what will initially be a very low-light scene, you are going to need something of interest to focus and compose your shot on. If you just take a shot of the sky with nothing to draw the viewer into the image then its not going to hold anyones interest.

I personally like something in the foreground with lots of texture to really show off all the lovely golden, early morning light. The texture really helps to cast long shadows and the colours can really "pop" with the orange light coming from the sun.

Tip 3 - Settings

ISO -  low. Aim to keep your ISO at 100. Use longer exposure lengths to get lots of light into the camera rather than raising the ISO which will cause un-wanted digital noise.

Aperture - small.  Closing down the aperture (higher f/number) you increase the depth of field of your image, ideal if you are capturing a landscape and want all of the scene in focus. Again, we will be using a longer exposure time to get lots of light into the camera.

Shutter Speed - slow. The longer exposure times will allow any movement (whether it be clouds, water or people) to be smoothed out. It also means you can have the ISO and aperture set as mentioned above to give you less digital "noise" and a very wide depth of field.

Tip 4 - Filters

I have only recently acquired a set of physical filters to put in front of the lens to alter the amount, and colour of the light entering your camera.

The most common type used for sunrise and sunset photos are Neutral Density (ND) filters and tinted filters (ofter orange/yellow of sunrise and blue/purple for sunset). ND filters are like putting a pair of sunglasses on your camera, they don't alter the colour of light entering your camera but they reduce the amount. You can get graduated ND filters which go from tinted to clear so that you can line them up with brighter areas of the scene.

None of the photos featured on the articles had any physical filters on the camera when I took them but I did create the effect on a few of them - so, here comes my handy tip...

If, when you are out taking your photos, you are finding that the sky is always overexposing yet your foreground is exposing correctly then you may need a filter but if you don't have one then you can just use your hand. Start the exposure with your hand just in front of the lens, covering the sky in your composition. This means it will be blocking most of the light getting into the camera. Then, during the exposure, move your hand out the way, letting light from the brighter area of your composition get into the camera. 

So, lets assume you are shooting a sunrise where half of your composition will be sky, and the other half is grass - like the first photo on this article - and you are using a 2 second exposure time. Start the shot with your hand covering the entire sky section in your composition, press the shutter button and after around 1 second move your hand quickly out the way. It is then just a case of trial and error getting your exposure length right and how long to leave your hand - or "ghetto filter!" - in the way. This is a really easy (and more importantly, free!) way of achieving a graduated filter effect on your sunrise and sunset shots.


So, all in all, preparation is the best thing for sunrise shots. The last thing you want to be doing is getting up unsociably early and then wondering around looking for a good location and missing the sunrise all together - trust me, I have done it and its not worth it! Also, don't worry about having the most expensive camera, lens, or filters as by keeping your ISO low, aperture small, shutter speed long and using your hand instead of an expensive filter you can achieve some great looking images without all the cost!

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In