There is something magical about sunrise that just makes you happy.
Beautiful sunrise photos are the result of that amazing soft light at the start of each day.
Sunrise photography encompasses blue hour and golden hour when the soft natural light adds a quality to images that can’t be replicated.
If you’re looking to improve your sunrise photography, use this guide that includes tips about location, composition, timing and more!
• Camera Gear for Sunrise Photography
• Sunrise Photography Tips
• Landscape Photography Techniques
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CAMERA GEAR FOR SUNRISE PHOTOGRAPHY
We recommend you make a Camera Gear Checklist of your equipment so you don’t foget anything when you head out to take photos!
1. Camera: If you’re looking for something new…
2. Tripod: We are big proponents of using a tripod, especially when photographing in low light conditions. There are many compact and lightweight options out there that are easy to use.
3. Camera Bag: Protecting your camera from the elements (like sand and dust) is essential. Using a camera backpack is so nice for hiking too.
4. Remote shutter release: We like to use a remote shutter release when taking pictures during the low light of blue and golden hour to reduce the camera shake when using the button on the camera. Be sure to get the release that fits YOUR camera.
5. Camera cleaning kit: You’ll want a field cleaning kit to remove dust or water mist that may make its way to your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.
6. Memory cards: Purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card!
7. External hard drive: Don’t forget to copy the photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’.
8. Headlamp: When photographing sunrise, it usually means you’ll be navigating in the dark before that time. Use a flashlight or headlamp to light your way from the parking lot to your spot. Wearing a headlamp allows you to set up your equipment without having to hold a flashlight. Remember to use the red light setting and keep the beam pointed on the ground in front of you to avoid disrupting other photographers in the area taking long exposure shots.
Where Should I Buy Camera Equipment?
We get asked this question often. There are two places where we buy our cameras, lenses and other accessories: Amazon and B&H Photo.
B&H Photo is our go-to company for buying the high quality cameras, tripods and lenses. They are a reputable company that's been in business for over 45 years. Their customer service and knowledge about photography equipment gives us peace of mind when spending money on higher ticket items.
Amazon is where we buy most of our camera accessories like filters, memory cards, etc. The free two-day shipping is always a plus. We have bought cameras, lenses and tripods from Amazon with no problem as well. They are good about returns, but won't be able to answer gear-specific questions.
SUNRISE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
Scout Good Sunrise Locations
A good photo begins with understanding the subject. The best way to get to know the scene you want to photograph at sunrise is to scout the location. This pre-planning is especially important for sunrise photography.
- Which direction will the sun rise?
- Is there an unobstructed view of the horizon where the sun will rise?
- Is there an element in the landscape to create interest?
The sunrise photo above is a location with an unobstructed view of the rising sun on the horizon. The foreground highlights the wonderful white-rimmed canyons found at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
- Is there an interesting subject the sun will illuminate when it rises?
Beautiful sunrise pictures do not need to include the sun. The reflected light on the arches found at Arches National Park, Utah showcase the warm light at sunrise resulting in a WOW photo.
When scouting for sunrise locations, it’s ideal if you can visit the location during the day so you are familiar with the area. Many times you’ll arrive at a location in the dark before the sun comes up.
If you can’t visit in person, find images of the area so you can ‘see’ the various elements at the location in order to plan your shots.
Compose the Sunrise Photo
Sunrise happens quickly so it’s important to know in advance the images you want to capture.
If you want to capture the sunburst as the sun appears on the horizon, you must be ready.
You need to know where the sun will rise so you can compose the shot before the event happens. Once the sun rises, it moves quickly and there isn’t much time to take photos before the light is too blinding.
In the photo above, once the sun made its way over the horizon at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, the light became too intense to continue photographing in that direction.
When you choose to photograph a subject where the sun shines its light on it, instead of facing the sun directly, you have more time to take photos. The soft morning light gives you a bit more time and flexibility to capture creative landscape compositions.
The photo above was taken at sunrise at Grand Teton National Park. The light from the sun makes the mountains and reflection stand out since the river and surrounding landscape are still in shadow.
Beyond finding a good location for sunrise, you need to also know the images you want to capture at that location, and be ready in advance to take those shots quickly.
Get Up Early to Arrive Before Sunrise
This sunrise photography tip is the most difficult, but it’s the most important.
Get up early enough to arrive on location well before sunrise time. You don’t want to miss out on the amazing blue hour and golden hour light that happens before the sun rises!
Here are some tips to help you get up early:
→ Plan to arrive at the location about one hour before sunrise. Set two alarms if that will help you get up.
→ Use a camera gear checklist to organize and pack your camera gear the day before. This really helps with waking up early the next day.
→ Pack something to eat and your drink of choice to help you stay awake.
→ Dress in layers with gloves and a hat. It’s cold before sunrise but begins to warm as the sun ascends and you should be able to shed and store layers as the temperature increases.
→ It’s still dark before sunrise. Use a flashlight or headlamp to illuminate your way to the location.
When you set the goal to get up early, it is easier to fight off the temptation to hit that snooze button!
Photograph During the Blue Hour Before Sunrise
Do you take advantage of the time before sunrise to take photos? If not, you should.
Our favorite sunrise photography tip is to take pictures an hour BEFORE the sun rises. This is called the Blue Hour.
The photo above taken at Zion National Park illustrates the beautiful cool tones of purple and pink you’ll see during Blue Hour. It’s definitely worth getting up early for!
Look Behind You When Photographing the Sunrise
Always pay attention to the sky and landscape behind you. Reflected light and color can create wonderful scenes away from the actual rising sun.
We knew from previous outings that sunrise at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah produces stunning color.
This image above is the scene to the west as the sun was beginning to rise in the east. And the reflection in the water at the salt flats at that time of year just makes the image even better!
Get in the habit of looking around, and not just focusing on the event. While everyone was focused on capturing the sunrise, which was stunning, no one was seeing this scene directly behind them!
Take Photos After Sunrise
Are you someone who watches the sun rise, snaps the photo, then moves on to the next photo opportunity? If so, you might be missing out on some amazing scenes!
For example, most people visit Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah at sunrise to get the shot you see above. After the sun rises above the horizon, they head off to the next site.
If they had stayed just a bit longer, they would have found that the crowds leave and you have the place to yourself.
And the red orange glow on the underside of the arch stays for a long time which provides more time to photograph during the Golden Hour period right after sunrise.
Be Patient When Photographing Sunrise
One trip to the Grand Canyon, we got up very early to photograph the sunrise. That morning the clouds were thick which blocked the view of the sun. It was very disappointing.
We noticed a small break in the clouds just above the sun and decided to stay a bit longer in hopes the sun would pass through that opening.
As you can see from the photo above, we are so glad we did!
Patience is key when chasing the light at sunrise. Many times the weather won’t cooperate. Remember that clouds and storms also produce fascinating effects during sunrise.
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