How to Capture the Best Sunrises and Sunsets
If you are starting out in photography, you will most likely attempt to take some sunrise and sunset photographs. In this article, we wanted to guide you through some of the camera settings and accessories you can use to ensure you obtain the best golden hour photos possible.
Before you even begin, it is always good to do the research. Take the time to learn when the sun will rise and set. Aim to be set up at your location 1 hour or 30 mins before the event. By getting there early, it allows you enough time to compose your shot so you can focus on what could be an epic light display.
When packing your equipment for a sunrise or sunset shot, there are some essential pieces of equipment to include. A sturdy tripod, filter system, camera remote and wide-angle lens are the four crucial pieces to take with you.
When setting up your shot, consider including some foreground elements to create interest. Try setting up the tripod low to the ground and include one-third land and two-thirds sky in your composition. Techniques like this work exceptionally well when clouds are present in the atmosphere, however, if you find a cloudless sky think about changing to include two-thirds of the land to add more interest to the image.
Opt to use a Circular Polarising Filter or a Neutral Density (ND) Filter. The latter will enable you to have a longer shutter speed. With an ND filter added you could achieve some creative results when photographing sunrises or sunsets where water is present as the extended shutter speeds can enhance the movement in the water and the clouds in the sky. Circular Polarising Filters are handy to cut the reflection on the surface of the water. They will also increase the contrast in the sky.
When the camera is stable on the tripod the settings you should select include, a low ISO, a minimum aperture and a slower shutter speed.
ISO should be at the lowest setting, around 100 or 200 depending on the camera model. If you haven’t already tried shooting RAW, ensure to select this. The RAW image mode will enable you to capture a photo with much more dynamic range, which can result in better highlight and shadow details in the picture.
Your wide-angle lens should be set to a minimum aperture, somewhere around F8 or F11. When obtaining focus don’t focus on the horizon, instead move your autofocus point around 6 to 8 metres in front of you. By doing this, you will achieve hyperfocal distance which means you will have the foreground in focus and the background elements in sharp focus too. There is a mathematical equation (and apps you can download) to help work out the exact distance to focus on depending on the lens and focal length you use, but the range mentioned above should do the trick for 90% of all equipment setups.
Finally, to achieve the best sunrise or sunset photos, shutter speed is the critical element. Set your camera to manual and turn your shutter speed to at least one second or slower. At this speed the clouds in the sky or water in the foreground will show movement, enhancing the beauty in the photo. Just remember to use a cable release to fire off the shutter of your camera as this will eradicate any camera shake you might develop from pressing the button. If you don’t have a cable release, you can use the self-timer found in the camera's menu.
As a final tip, turn your cameras’ white balance to a shade setting.
Many professional landscape photographers will use this tip to enhance the saturation of colour in the camera. It’s a neat trick and one you will quickly find works for you sunrise or sunset photography.
Share your sunrise and sunset photos with us on Instagram or Facebook – just tag us @drphotovideo!
Photo credit (top image): Joshua Earle
Photo credit (bottom image): Sebastien Gabriel