Nothing makes for a more beautiful sunrise or sunset than vivid colors beaming across the sky.
Having a sky with golden yellows and oranges and beautiful reds and purples can give any photographer goosebumps, but there are a few tricks and tips to keep in mind to capture the perfect picture before it fades away.
This goes pretty much with any shoot — think and plan ahead. As you would suspect, the weather plays a huge factor in determining if you’re going to have a good shoot or not. High clouds will make for a longer sunset or sunrise, as the sun will hit those clouds last or first depending on the time of day. Low cloud cover will make for a very tough shoot if you’re looking for color. Of course there are a few apps to help predict the weather (which our very own founder, Virginia, wrote about here), but the funny thing about weather – it’s unpredictable.
Location is also a big part of getting the perfect picture. As you could also imagine, there are apps to help plan the path of the sun and where it will rise or set on the horizon. If you’re using an app like Photopills, you can pick the spot you want to shoot from and then rotate the map to see where the sun’s path will start and end. If you’re looking to line up the sun with the buildings of lower Manhattan, Photopills can tell you when and where you need to be.
Use a tripod
It should go without saying, but have a good tripod close by. You’re going to be shooting either right before the sun comes up or goes down, and that means it’s going to be dark. Plop your camera in your trusty tripod and ensure you capture a photograph without blur from holding your camera with long shutter speeds. See our gear recommendations here.
Check your white balance
The light in a beautiful sunrise or sunset is made up of different colors, and let’s be honest — sometimes the camera doesn’t do a great job of reading the scene. If you leave the camera in Auto, you run the risk of losing some of the warm colors in the sunrise or sunset.
Play with your exposure
You only have a set amount of time to work with a sunrise or sunset so you need to be efficient in your shooting — especially if you have a great sky to work with. If you let you camera decide the shutter speed in Auto or Aperture Priority, you may not get the shot you totally want and some color will be left out. So shoot in RAW and shoot at a variety of different shutter speeds until you find the one that delivers the result you’d like. When the sun is still above the horizon, you’ll want to start with faster shutter speed and then slowly work your way down to slower ones.
Experiment with bracketing
Most DSLRs have this option built right into the camera, but if you don’t you can still pull it off manually. Exposure bracketing is where you look at what the camera suggests you take the picture at and then take a few shots at both under and over that light reading. This could lend your work to be more like an HDR photograph. This is definitely a technique you’re going to want to get familiar with before you go out and shoot. Check out more on bracketing here.
More Tips to Consider
Look around while you’re shooting
The great thing about a sunrise and sunset is that the scene around you is constantly changing with the sun’s position. A place like the Grand Canyon, where the sun rises a lot earlier at the top of the canyon then at the bottom, will change colors with the sun rising higher in the sky. If you focus on just where the sun is, you can miss out on some truly beautiful landscapes.
A sunset or sunrise constantly changes the scene over time and can produce great colors well after the sun goes down. Keep firing away and experiment at different exposures and focal lengths until you’re sure it’s all over.