Sunrise and sunset, the holy grail of photography times for outdoor photographers. But too often I hear from beginners who are disappointed in their photos. Capturing great sunrise or sunset shots isn’t easy, but fortunately, with a few simple tips, you will be able to see a huge improvement in your photos. So here are 5 tips to help you capture those stunning sunrise and sunset shots.
You need great light
Just because it’s a sunrise or sunset doesn’t automatically mean you are going to get a great shot. The reason that these times are preferred by photographers is because of the light that is often present in a scene. This light in combination with the clouds in the sky can produce dramatic results. But you need to understand that the light will differ depending on the conditions. For example, a band of low cloud might obscure the light from the sun during these times and so your photo doesn’t look as dramatic. Or if there are no clouds in the sky you may not end up with a dramatic sky.
The first element of any great sunrise or sunset photo is the right conditions. So get into the habit of checking the weather forecasts and plan your shoot accordingly.
Find an interesting subject
Have you ever taken a photo of a sunset from a beach looking across the ocean only to find that it looks boring in a photo? That’s because whilst a scene might look beautiful when you are there for a photo it needs more. To capture great sunrise or sunset shots you need to compose your image to take the viewer on a journey through your photo. Start by thinking about the main subject in your photo. This could be boulders on a beach, a lighthouse, a building, people, skyline or anything else. This should then become the main purpose of your story. Keep in mind that a sunrise or sunset in itself isn’t interesting enough to build your photo around. Instead, think of it as a supporting element to your main subject.
Use composition techniques
A great sunrise or sunset photo relies on three things. Great light, an interesting subject and good composition. So take your time when you are composing your shot. One of the great things about photography during these times is that you can take your time a bit more than say street photography. You should be using a tripod so naturally, you will work a bit slower.
There are many composition techniques out there that can help you when you are framing your scene. For example, use the rule of thirds to place objects in your scene on intersections of the lines for a better composition. You can even use the rule of thirds to help you place your horizon line correctly. If you have an interesting foreground, place your horizon near the upper line of your rule of thirds grid. If you have a dramatic sky place your horizon near the lower line.
Or for example, use leading lines like roads, cliffs, docks etc to lead the viewer’s eyes around the image. There are many composition techniques out there so learn about them and use them to help you when composing your shot.
Learn how to use filters
I would very rarely ever take a sunrise or sunset photo without using a filter of some sort. All too often I see amateur photographers forego this and then be disappointed when their shots don’t come out the way they want. I also see some people using photo stacking or HDR to try to mimic the effect of using filters. The great thing about using filters is that they give you far more flexibility than HDR or stacking when taking the shot to tweak things for the best possible photo. But why do you actually need to use filters?
One of the big challenges when taking photos at sunrise or sunset is the low sun (especially if the sun is behind a skyline or mountains). This can cause a huge discrepancy in the light within a scene making the sky far brighter than the foreground. So if you expose for the sky then your foreground will be dark. If you expose for the foreground than your sky will be too bright. A graduated ND filter helps to balance the light across these areas to give you an even exposure across the image. If you want to capture the best sunrise or sunset photos, invest in some good filters.
Boost your photo in post-production
If you take photos in RAW format (which you absolutely should), then they are never going to look their best until you edit them a bit in a post-processing software. RAW files are exactly that – RAW. Think of them as a digital negative that needs to be developed. How much you want to edit them will ultimately come down to the photo and your personal taste. But every photo will benefit from some adjustment to the exposure, highlights, shadows, contrast, vibrancy and saturation. You will also need to ensure the white balance and tint are correct and you may need to straighten and crop your image. But don’t forego this process or be lazy about it as it’s just as important as taking the photo.
A great sunrise or sunset photo looks stunning anywhere. Whether it’s a postcard, screensaver or even as a print on the wall, there’s a reason that photographers plan their shoots around these times. Beautiful golden light, dramatic skies, gorgeous blues, pinks, oranges and reds, there are so many reasons that you should do all you can to capture a great sunrise or sunset shot. By using these 5 simple tips you will be on your way to capturing great photos during these times.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.