Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos

There is something magical about sunrise pictures. Looking at them just makes you happy.

Beautiful sunrise images are the result of the warm, soft light at the start of each day.

The best light occurs from sunrise to about 1 hour after sunrise. This Golden Hour light adds a quality to images that can’t be replicated.

Our sunrise photography tips include location, composition, timing and more!

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SUNRISE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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 Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Grand View Point at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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, Utah.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Mesa Arch at sunrise 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 subjects in the photo below pop because the rays at sunrise light up the arch and window found at Arches National Park, Utah.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Turret Arch through the North Window at Arches National Park in Utah.

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.

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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 Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - sunrise at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah at Panorama Point

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.

The photo below 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.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Grand Teton National Park mountains reflected 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 Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - golden sunrise at San Rafael Swell, Utah


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.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - golden sunrise at Bonneville 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.
  • 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!

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Photograph During the Blue Hour

Do you take advantage of the time before sunrise to take photos? If not, you should.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - blue hour sunrise at Zion National Park results in a blue sky with pink clouds

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.

Sunrise with golden clouds at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

You can capture amazing photos during this time since the sky is always evolving as the light changes.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - golden sunrise at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Look at how the colors in the scene change from these two photos. The image above was taken when the sun was just starting to show. The image below was taken when the sun had come up.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - golden sunrise at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah


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.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - sunrise with pink clouds at Bonneville Salt Flats in 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. And the reflection in the water at the salt flats at this time of year just makes the image even better!

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - sunrise with pink clouds at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

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!

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Mesa Arch at sunrise at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Mesa Arch at sunrise at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Mesa Arch at sunrise at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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 Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - Mesa Arch at sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park

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.

RELATED READING: Sunrise Photography Settings

TIPS TO IMPROVE PHOTOGRAPHY

The best way to learn photography and improve your skills – practice!

You can read and watch tutorials, but until you put the information you have accumulated into motion, you aren’t going to learn a thing!

And remember – photography should be FUN so be sure to photograph those things you love!

 

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