Sunrise Photography Tips to Capture Stunning Images

Our sunrise photography tips will help you capture those beautiful images during the soft light at the start of each day.

When taking sunrise photos, be sure to utilize the basic photography techniques to capture a stunning photo as well as the tips below!

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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

And be sure to check out our sunrise photo ideas!


Scout the Location

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 or the view where the sun will rise?

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands

Is there an element in the landscape to create interest? The sunrise photo above includes wonderful white-rimmed canyons and the sunrise image below includes Mesa Arch, both found at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky.

sunrise at Mesa Arch Canyonlands

Is there an interesting subject the sun will illuminate when it rises? Beautiful sunrise pictures do not need to include the sun. The subjects in the photo below pop because the rays at sunrise light up the arch and window found when capturing Arches National Park photography.

Turret Arch at sunrise

It’s ideal if you can visit the location during the day prior to taking the sunrise photos. 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.

Tips to Compose the Sunrise Photo

Determine in advance the images you want to capture.

If you want to photograph the sun as it appears on the horizon, you must be ready. The sun moves quickly and there isn’t much time to take the photos before the light is too blinding.

sunrise at Capitol Reef

Once the sun made its way over the horizon at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah in the photo above, the light became too intense to continue photographing in that direction.

When you choose to capture a sunrise image where the sun lights an image, you have more time to photograph this scene.

The soft light during Golden Hour gives you the time and flexibility to capture creative compositions.

A famous way to photograph Grand Teton National Park is capturing the sunlit mountains in the reflection of the Snake River.

reflection of the Tetons in the Snake River at sunrise

Sunrise photography can also include taking photos as the light sweeps across the scene.

In this photo below, the golden sky illuminated the tops of the plateaus creating a wonderful contrast to the canyons still in shadow.

sunrise from Cedar Mountain San Rafael Swell

Get Up Early

This sunrise photography tip is the most difficult, but it’s the most important. Get up early to capture colorful sunrise skies.

glow before sunrise at the Salt Flats Utah

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.
  • Organize and pack your camera gear the day before. This really helps with waking up early the next day. DOWNLOAD our camera gear checklist!
  • Pack something to eat and your drink of choice to help you stay awake.
  • Dress in layers with a fleece jacket, photographer 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 the Blue Hour Transition to Golden Hour

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 before the sun rises.

blue hour at Zion National Park

The Blue Hour or Pre-Dawn provides beautiful rich tones and colors in the sky for a short period right before the sun appears over the horizon.

The sky is always evolving as the light changes during the transition from Golden Hour to Blue Hour.

Zion photography behind the museum at golden hour

Look at how the colors in the scene change from pinks and purples at Blue Hour to yellows and oranges at Golden Hour.

Look Behind You

Always pay attention to the sky and landscape behind you. Reflected light and color can create wonderful scenes away from the actual rising sun.

blue hour reflection at Bonneville Salt Flats Utah

We knew from previous outings that sunrise at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah produces stunning color.

This image is the scene to the west as the sun was beginning to rise in the east. Photographing reflections in water at the salt flats at this time of year just makes the image even better!

Reflection at Bonneville Salt Flats Utah by Photo Jeepers

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!

Stay a Bit Longer

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!

Washer Woman through Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

For example, most people visit Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah at sunrise. After the sun rises above the horizon, they head off to the next site.

golden light at Mesa Arch Canyonlands

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.

sunburst at Mesa Arch Canyonlands

Keep your eyes open to discover creative ways to photograph the landscape while the light is still soft.

Be Patient

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.

sunrise at Grand Canyon

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. 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.

Check out these awesome SUNRISE AND SUNSET PRESETS at ETSY!

sunrise and sunset presets at Etsy

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