Sunrise Photo Ideas for Landscape Photography

Sunrise Photography is one of the most magical times for landscape photography. The low angle of the sun casts a warm glow over the scene and paints the sky with vivid colors that are constantly evolving.

It requires dedication to wake up early and be in position to capture those first rays of light. But there are so many advantages for early morning photography. Take a look at these sunrise photo ideas and tips to inspire you to get up early to take photos!

sunrise photo tips and ideas

Because most people enjoy sleeping in, you don’t have to worry about crowds as much since most places aren’t as busy in the morning. And did you know that the sky looks more vivid in the morning since there aren’t as many pollutants in the air?

The reward for your early morning effort is capturing an image that conveys a sense of peace, beauty, and awe at the natural world coming alive again. With some planning, creativity, and technical skills, you can create sunrise landscape photos that are truly special and memorable. 

Be sure to grab your free copy of our Photography Checklists by clicking the image below. You’ll get a packing list, settings list, and composition tips list that includes the top basic photography techniques to capture amazing photos!

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Camera Gear for Landscape Photography

  • Tripod: take a look at these compact and lightweight travel tripods!
  • Camera Bag: protect your camera from sand and water → We use Lowepro camera backpacks for outdoor photography.
  • Neutral density filter: to compensate for variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter. → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
  • Camera cleaning kit: remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards: purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card! → We use Lexar and Sandisk!
  • External hard drive: copy photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. 
  • Headlamp: use when taking sunrise and sunset photos!

Camera Gear at B&H Photo

camera accessories

Sunrise Photo Ideas

Beautiful sunrise images are the result of the warm, soft light at the start of each day. The best light occurs before and after the sun rises when you can capture the blue hour and golden Hour light that’s simply spectacular!

Take a look at these ideas for taking sunrise photos shared by our photography friends!

Sunrise photo by James Griffin

Find Interesting Elements

Capturing the sunrise is the objective, but it’s also important to compose your photo with interesting subjects or elements. It’s just adds that extra something to the image!

In the photo above by James Griffin, he found a location where he could track the sun to the horizon and positioned himself where he could use the road and fence as leading lines to draw the eye to the color in the sky.

Sunrise at the beach by Terri Chabot

Terri Chabot did the same thing in the photo below. The beach is a good location to take a picture of the sun rising on the horizon.

But she found an interesting subject at the beach to also include in the frame. It just adds that extra element of interest. And notice the beach tower has been placed on the left grid line using the rule of thirds.

Golden hour sunrise photo by Richey Oliver

Look at the stunning golden hour color in this picture taken by Richey Oliver. He placed the horizon line in the upper part of the photo to put emphasis on the grass and lake in the foreground.

Richey also moved the camera down to get a low perspective which is another element that creates impact.

Sunrise photo at golden hour by Jay Hasson

Here’s another fabulous photo showcasing the golden light at sunrise. Jay Hasson put the horizon line close the to middle of the photo so there is equal emphasis on the foreground element below the line, the water… as well as a background element, the sky.

Talk about timing to capture the plane directly above the sun. Wow!

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon by Roy Goldsberry

Capture a Sunburst

The addition of a sunburst in your photo adds a fantastic element! Roy Goldsberry caught the sun perfectly as it crossed the horizon to get this terrific sunburst!

Notice the red/orange/pink glow on the hoodoos… it’s what makes Bryce Canyon sunrise photography so unique.

Mesa Arch sunrise by Ghe Buhay

This photo by Ghe Buhay is another example of how a sunburst creates that extra wow factor.

Capturing this sunrise shot at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands Island in the Sky is on many photographer’s bucket lists. Ghe took an amazing photo!

Sunrise photo by Jim Bigham

Reflected Light at Sunrise

Don’t forget that as the sun rises, it will reflect soft golden light onto objects in the scene. Jim Bigham’s photo below illustrates the concept of reflected light beautifully.

He’s also used the concept of foreground, midground and background to provide a sense of depth in the scene as you can see the various layers.

Lighthouse at sunrise by Jan Irons

There’s a nice soft glow from the sunrise on the lighthouse and buildings in this scene captured by Jan Irons.

By placing the horizon line in the middle of the picture, there is equal weight for the lighthouse and its reflection in the water.

Sunrise light on the ocean by Brian Leonard

Here’s another great example with this photo by Brian Leonard that shows reflected light on a scene.

This is a good reminder to look around you to see if there are elements that are illuminated by the sun, and not just focus on the rising sun itself.

Sunrise photo by James Carro

Weather Conditions

Don’t let bad weather conditions stop you from taking sunrise photos. You never know when the clouds, fog, rain or snow will ADD to the picture you take!

For example, the fog and sunlight combined to create an amazing mood in this photo above taken by James Carro.

Can you see the elements he chose to include in this photo? He’s got the sun and trees on the left, and the boat on the right, with just enough space on those edges to frame this scene.

Sunrise photo by William Holmes

When we see a cloudy sky, we usually assume there will be no sunrise. But remember there may be reflected light from the sun onto the clouds, as William Holmes has captured here.

Yes, we’ve been in situations where the sunrise was a bust, and no color whatsoever. BUT you never know so it’s worth taking the chance to capture something amazing like this!

Morning photo by Lisa Mason

This photo above taken by Lisa Mason is a terrific example of a sunrise with no color. But look how the low clouds accentuate the layers in this scene. You can easily see the foreground, midground and background! It may have seemed like a dismal day for photography, but this image is a great shot!

Sunrise photo by Roy Goldsberry

In this photo by Roy Goldsberry, there’s a thick layer of clouds in the sky. BUT there was a break in those clouds somewhere that allowed light to shine onto the mountains. Stunning!

He used the fence as a nice leading line guiding the eye toward the sun-lit mountains in the background.

Sunrise photo by James Griffin

Capture a Silhouette

Sunrise is a great time to photograph a silhouette against a blue hour or golden hour sky like James Griffin did here in the image below.

He incorporated a lower, hip-level perspective to place the sun behind the plant which is a nice technique.

Blue hour sunrise photo by Brian Leonard

In Brian Leonard’s photo, he’s using the soft transition light of golden hour / blue hour as the backdrop for the silhouetted trees.

The twisted branches stand out and the viewer takes a journey following the lines throughout the image.

Sunrise photo by Sharon Plyler

Colorful Skies

When the sky is filled with colorful clouds, be sure to set your horizon line low so the sky is the focal point.

In the image above by Sharon Plyler, she included a bit of the scene at the bottom, and let that amazing sky fill the rest of the image.

In the picture above, she placed the horizon line higher up in the frame, but the sky is still the main focal point. The darker foreground is a nice balance to contrast against the golden sky above.

With some planning ahead, a creative mindset, and knowing how to use your camera well, you can take sunrise landscape photos that are really special and unique – pictures that capture something rare and fleeting.

The short-lived nature of those first morning rays requires you to stick with it and keep at it. Enjoy the process of constantly adjusting your framing and composition until finally, you freeze that one-of-a-kind, amazing moment in time – a breathtaking memory to cherish forever.

AMAZON Landscape Photography Books:

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