Sunrise at Church of The Good Shepherd

Best Sunrise Photography Tips for Beginners

In Tutorials by Stefano CaioniLeave a Comment
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[UPDATED October 2019]

Want to better your sunrise photography technique? Here are the best sunrise photography tips for beginners that are sure to help.

Beautiful sunrise photography is often synonym of beautiful landscape photos with red skies and stunning warm colors. Photographing an incredible landscape in the early hours of the day is one of my favorite things to do.

@josephyates_

But is all that beauty enough to make sunrise photography easy?

Achieving good results when shooting sunrises can be challenging.

I particularly love shooting at the earliest hours of the day, but sunrises pictures can be hard to capture.

It takes quite some effort to build the habit of shooting at sunrise.
You also have to learn the right camera settings.

Getting a great sunrise shot is rewarding and it’s totally worth spending some time grasping the fundamentals. I wrote for you a series of steps to follow for capturing amazing sunrises pictures.
Apply them to your routine and you’ll immediately see improvements in your sunrise photos. 

For those of you who don’t particularly love reading long articles, I’ll give you here the basic settings for sunrise photography

  • Aperture: varies from f/8 to f/16, use f/20 or f/22 for longer exposure and depth of field,
  • Shutter speed: set your camera to aperture priority, and it will set the proper shutter speed automatically,
  • ISO: it depends, are you using a tripod? I’ll discuss this a bit further, but in general base ISO (100 or 200) for longer exposures, otherwise, try with ISO 600 or ISO 800.

I’ve also included a video tutorial by Jamie Gillies. You can jump straight to the video here.

Tips ti improve sunrise photography

Sunrise Photography Tips

Let’s now talk about my best tips for taking sunrise photos.

Get Inspired From Other Photographers

Firstly, educate your eye. It applies to any style of photography, and you can do it as part of your planning, which is my next tip.

Start using Instagram, 500px, and Google images to see what other photographers have done in a particular location.

Feed your brain with stunning images, check out the work of expert photographers, and don’t be afraid of not being unique, or that you’re copying others. You can go to a photo location hundreds of times, and I guarantee you that you will always obtain different results.

@jplenio

The light is always going to be different.
The clouds in the sky and the weather condition, in general, are continually creating dynamic scenarios for you to capture different photos every time.

Save on your computer or your phone photos from different photographers.

Study what they have in common.

See what’s the effect you want to reproduce and go for it!

This way, after a while, you’ll develop your personal photography style.

Various sunrise pictures. Instagram feed Stefano Caioni

Sunrise Photography Tips: Plan Your Sunrise Shooting

This step is especially important for people just starting in landscape photography

The best sunrise images come out of proper planning.

To excel in sunrise photography, be mindful of all the aspects during your planning.

What gear you need to bring with you, how to reach the desired location, where to park your car, how long is the walk, how the light will be, and the composition you would like to create.

You’ve got enough inspiration from the step before, and sometimes it’s useful to try and “draw” in your mind the final image you want to obtain.

Study what some of the possible compositions are so that you’ll get an idea of what you want to achieve.

If it’s your first time you go to a location, always make sure you know as much as you can about it.

Do your research and plan in advance.

Plan what to put in your camera bag, where to park your car, how to reach the spot, and what could be the possible angles to shoot.

Don’t underestimate this phase.

Make sure that everything is in your bag from the night before.

Check all your gear, extra batteries for your camera (make sure to charge them), filters and tripod.

Know precisely at what time is the sunrise and from which direction the sun gets up.

I use the app The Photographer’s Ephemeris. You can download the app for both iOS and Android at this link.

It’s a handy tool because it tells you the exact direction from where the sun is going to illuminate your composition. 

If possible, it’s also essential to know if the sky is going to be clear or covered with clouds.

A cloudy sky is a really beautiful addition to your composition

A sky entirely obscured by clouds, though, is not going to let the light through and the final image will look dull. 

The composition is key in sunrise photography.

Sunrise Photography Settings: Arrive Early on Location

Depending on the month of the year, sunrise can be very early in the morning. Sometimes you’ll have to wake up at 4:00 am or even earlier if you live far from the location. Not an easy task to achieve. 

I know.

Arriving early on location is probably one of the most important rules of landscape photography, and it’s fundamental to get awesome sunrise pictures.

I see so many photographers getting to the spot at the last second when the good light is just about to come up.

I then see them struggle with setting up their cameras since they’re in a rush, and they fear that they are going to miss the best light.

It’s not easy.

I get it, but for sunrises (or sunsets), it is crucial to be on location at the right time to capture the proper light.

Sometimes it’s a matter of minutes if not seconds.

You must be on the spot at least 30 minutes before sunrise.

With everything already set up.

Yes, because setting up your camera can take time.

If you’re in a hurry, you will risk to forget something important, or worse, drop something and damage your gear (done that!).

Probably, if it’s a popular location, there will be other photographers already occupying the best vantage points.

You’ll get surprised by how many people planned to go shooting the same place.

There’s nothing worse than finding you can’t take photos from the angle you wanted because someone is already occupying your spot.

Wake up on time and arrive early! 😉

Sunrise at Church of The Good Shepherd

What to do once you are on Location

The first thing you should do when you arrive is to take a few quick snaps to study your composition and analyze a few possible angles.

Only after you will decide where exactly you want to position your tripod or if you’re not going to use one, where to take your pictures from.

It’s worth exploring the area a little bit and walking around to see how the composition changes depending on where we position ourselves.

By doing so, you’ll maximize your chances of going home with the best possible composition you could take on that day.

Since you’ve arrived early, you’ll have time to change the viewpoint if, after a few clicks, you’re not happy with the initial images.

Often, at first, you won’t realize that there’s a better vantage point close to you. There might be a better angle just a few meters from where you are, and it would make the final composition look so much more interesting.

After mounting your camera on your tripod, you must define your composition. I wrote an article specific to the different rules of composition in photography.

Camera Settings for Sunrise Photography

At the beginning of this article, I gave you some quick settings, let’s see more in detail what you need to do.

These are the settings I generally use to capture a landscape at sunrise. Experiment with them, and let me know your results.

Ask me questions in the comments below or share your experience if you want. I would be thrilled to read it, and I always reply.

To the settings now:

  • Aperture and Shutter speed: I shoot landscapes in Aperture Priority Mode. I set the aperture value, and the camera decides the appropriate shutter speed.

    I like it this way because I have greater control of the Depth of Field (DOF). For a landscape, you often want everything in focus, and to achieve that, you have to choose an aperture value from f/8 to f/16 depending on the effect you wish to obtain. In Aperture Priority Mode, the camera will decide how long the exposure must be by setting the proper shutter speed.
  • ISO = 200 with long shutter speed, you don’t need high ISO.

    I shoot with an Olympus OE-M EM1 Mark II, and the base ISO value is 200. Set the ISO to the lowest value as possible on your camera. It can be 200, 100 or 50, depending on your camera. A low ISO will give you the sharpest possible results. For this reason, you might need a tripod for a sunrise or sunset landscape. When shooting at low ISO, in Aperture Priority mode, the camera will lower the shutter speed to capture more light. It means that you cannot handhold your camera, or your final image will be shacky.

    You can also use ISO 400 or 800 to avoid carrying a tripod with you. Be sure to not go too over that value or you might start seeing noise (grain) in your photo.
  • Use an ND Filter. For best results, you need a Neutral Density filter. ND filters give you control over the exposure and creative control over the shutter speed.
    A filter will reduce the quantity of light that hits the sensor of your camera. So the camera will increase the exposure time (slowing down the shutter speed).

Sunrise Photography Gear

Some of the best photography gear you can use for your sunrise pictures.

Sunrise Photography Gear: Camera and Lenses for Sunrise Photography

My camera is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It has some very handy functionalities to shoot sunrise.
You can find the review I wrote about it here.

I also have in my bag the small Olympus PEN EP-L 9. For quick handheld shots while the EM1 Mark II is on my tripod.
Review of my Olympus PEN-EPL9 here.

And here you can check the price on Amazon:

I shoot sunrises with a wide-angle lens.

I love using my Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, which gives me an extensive field of view.

And also, I always bring with me my Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro for those compositions that require a bit more zoom.

Two lenses for my old APS-C sensor camera the Nikon D7100 (new model Nikon D7500) that I’ve used in the past are the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G and the Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G.

I can’t believe how cheap they are on Amazon!

For Canon (I don’t own a Canon camera) according to my research, the Canon EF-S 24mm (for APS-C sensors) is a very well priced wide-angle lens for your sunrise pictures.

Sunrise Photography Gear: Using a Tripod to Shoot Sunrises

Sunrises create beautiful colors in the sky and cast that wonderful golden light (hence the name golden hour) that makes your photos look stunning.

But the intensity of light is little, compared to other hours of the day.

You set the aperture of your lens to something around f/8 or f/11 for a good depth of field. A slow shutter speed is needed to make sure that the camera sensor gets enough light in, and it’s able to collect enough information.

This way, you are increasing the length of the exposure.

When doing so, you’ll need to hold your camera completely still, or the final picture will be shaky and blurred.

That’s why you might need a tripod.

The tripod I use is the Manfrotto Befree. 

It’s not an expensive tripod, and it’s light and compact. I bring it with me pretty much everywhere and so far I am really happy with the results I’ve achieved with it. 

If you don’t have a tripod, I highly recommend taking a look at it.

You can learn more about long exposure in landscape photography by reading my post 11 Tips to improve your long exposure photography

Video Tutorial

This video tutorial by Jamie Gillies shows you some quick and useful tips to capture sunrises.

Video key points:

3:15 First shot. Composition and camera settings

8:00 Second shot. Composition and camera settings

11:00 Don’t lose hope if you don’t get your sunrise photo right the first time.

Sunrise Photography Final Tip: Don’t Stop Practicing

Experiment with different focal lengths and shoot from different angles.

Take photos also when the sun is already higher in the sky because the light will always be changing and you can obtain different effects.

Also remember, as I said before, by going back more than once to a location, you’ll get away with always different sunrise photos.

It will never be the same as the time before. Keep shooting, and if you follow the steps above, you will achieve great results with your photos!


Conclusion

I hope that you find these simple tips for shooting better sunrise helpful.

My goal is to give you the knowledge and the motivation to start your journey in sunrise photography.

If you’re already into it, I hope you can learn something new from my tips.

Share this article on social media now! Doing so will help me expand my audience, and I can write more articles like this to help other people like you improving their photography skills.

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Review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II

Long exposure photography made easy

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