Sunrise Photography Tips to Capture Stunning Images

Capturing that sunrise magic is all about being in the right place at the right time with your camera ready. This list of sunrise photography tips will help you nail those epic morning shots!

When you’re out taking sunrise photos, you get to take advantage of the low angle of the sun. It casts this warm, glowing light over everything and paints the sky with bold, vivid colors that keep shifting and changing.

sunrise photography tips

Taking pictures of sunrises is really special. While most folks are still sleeping, you get to see the world wake up with bright, bold colors. As the sun slowly peeks out from the horizon, it covers the whole scene in a warm, golden light that makes everything look amazing.

For shutterbugs willing to rise before the roosters, the rewards of capturing jaw-dropping sunrise shots are totally worth those early alarms. It’s an addictive pursuit that’ll have you chasing that first light over and over again.

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

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Sunrise Photography Tips

Capturing that sunrise magic is all about being in the right place at the right time with your camera ready. This list of sunrise photography tips will help you nail those epic morning shots:

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands
Sunrise at Canyonlands National Park

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? Is there an element in the landscape to create interest?

There are two amazing Canyonlands Island in the Sky sunrise photo spots. The sunrise photo above includes wonderful white-rimmed canyons and the sunrise image below includes Mesa Arch.

sunrise at Mesa Arch Canyonlands
Mesa Arch at sunrise

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 sunrise photos.

Turret Arch at sunrise
Sunrise at Arches National Park

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.

sunrise at Capitol Reef
Sunrise at Capitol Reef National Park

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.

A popular Capitol Reef sunrise photo spot is Panorama Point. Once the sun made its way over the horizon in the photo above, the light became too intense to continue photographing in that direction.

reflection of the Tetons in the Snake River at sunrise

When you choose to capture a sunrise image where the sun lights an image, or there is reflected light, you have more time to photograph this scene. The soft light during Golden Hour gives you the time and flexibility to capture creative compositions.

When photographing sunrise Grand Teton National Park, you’re goal is to capture the sunlit mountains in the reflection of the Snake River.

sunrise from Cedar Mountain San Rafael Swell
Sunrise at San Rafael Swell

Sunrise photography can also include taking photos as the light sweeps across the scene. In the photo above, the golden sky illuminated the tops of the plateaus creating a wonderful contrast to the canyons still in shadow.

glow before sunrise at the Salt Flats Utah
Sunrise at Bonneville Salt Flats

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.

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!

blue hour at Zion National Park
Blue Hour at Zion National Park

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.

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. This is illustrated in the photo above.

Zion photography behind the museum at golden hour
Golden Hour at Zion National Park

The sky is always evolving as the light changes during the transition from Golden Hour to Blue Hour. Look at how the colors in the scene change from pinks and purples at Blue Hour to yellows and oranges at Golden Hour, as seen in the photo above.

blue hour reflection at Bonneville Salt Flats Utah
Blue Hour at Bonneville Salt Flats

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. 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
Blue Hour reflection at Bonneville Salt Flats

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!

Washer Woman through Mesa Arch at Canyonlands
Washer Woman through Mesa Arch

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!

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
Mesa Arch at 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
Sunburst over Mesa Arch

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

sunrise at Grand Canyon
Sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park

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.

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.

AMAZON Landscape Photography Books:

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