Pictures Of Sunsets And Sunrises

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There are no times of day more famous for photography than “Gold 60 minutes” — sunrise and sunset. Although bully light tin happen at any time, the edges of the solar day are possibly the virtually consequent sources of inspiration you can find. Still, only because they’re beautiful doesn’t mean they’re piece of cake to photograph. In this commodity, I’ll encompass some suggestions for capturing sunrise and sunset too every bit possible, including tips for exposure, creativity, and post-processing.

Table of Contents

Exposure at Sunrise and Dusk

As the day begins (or comes to a close), y’all may find it tough to capture the proper exposure. The biggest issue is that Golden Hour isn’t nearly equally bright as other times of twenty-four hour period. So, you’ll have to deal with less calorie-free than usual.

This is one of the many reasons why mural photographers tend to utilise tripods. If you’re curt on light, a tripod lets yous apply a long shutter speed and capture the proper exposure.

Nonetheless, fifty-fifty if you’re using a tripod, your work isn’t over. Ofttimes, the sky at sunset volition be several times brighter than your foreground, leading to an excessive amount of contrast in the paradigm. Dealing with this can be a challenge.

NIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 19mm, ISO 100, 1/five, f/11.0
I exported this JPEG from Lightroom without whatever edits at all. Every bit yous tin meet, the sky is as well bright, and the foreground is too dark. This is very typical for sunrise and sunset photography.

And so, what tin you practice to make the photograph look more like what y’all actually saw? There are a few techniques you tin employ.

Expose Like Normal

The outset — and simplest — is just to do nothing, at to the lowest degree in the field. You could have photos exactly like normal, and all you need to do is make sure that none of the important highlight detail in the sky is completely white. That’s considering it is impossible to set whatever regions of the heaven that lose all their detail.

Then, once you’re in your postal service-processing software, just recover the shadows using the “shadows” or “darks” slider (or whatever your equivalent may be). Yous also might end up concealment the highlights somewhat. Then, the last outcome may wait like this:

Sunset photo with darker sky and lighter foreground
Compared to the photo above, I just fabricated three edits hither (in Lightroom): -50 highlights, +35 shadows, and +20 vibrance. To me, this is a much better result. You can see more detail in the clouds and rocks, and information technology even so retains a natural feel.

However, although this technique works, it isn’t necessarily ideal. Boosting the shadows to an extreme degree sometimes looks faux and unnatural — non all the time, just certainly in some cases. It also makes noise more visible in the dark portions of your image. So, some photographers turn to other techniques instead.


Ane that’s important to know is the use of
filters. We’ve covered filters before for mural photography, only the elementary caption is that they physically alter the low-cal that reaches your camera sensor. In this case, the two filters that are most relevant are polarizing filters and graduated neutral density filters.

Polarizers are helpful for a number of reasons, merely, at sunrise and sunset, the virtually relevant use is that they can darken certain regions of the heaven. Specifically, ninety degrees away from the sun in every management, you’ll see a pregnant reduction in brightness, assuming that in that location aren’t many clouds.

And then, if you’re shooting ninety degrees away from the sun, a polarizer can exist a very skillful way to darken the sky. (Although it’due south worth mentioning that a wide-angle lens combined with a polarizer can result in an unevenly-lit sky, and is best avoided.)

However, a more than flexible filter for darkening the sky — one that works no matter which direction you face — is a graduated neutral density filter (as well called a grad filter). They look something like this:

Graduated ND filter

The idea is that you put this on the front of your lens, and the darker portion of the filter blocks out some light from the sky. In general, you would want to employ this with a holder that lets y’all slide the filter up and downwards, matching the height of the heaven in your prototype.

Graduated neutral density filters are intended to accept no color bandage any. They simply darken the superlative portion of the frame (or any other portion, if y’all rotate them around), and that’s information technology. Since the sky in your prototype is nearly always brighter than the foreground, this is a great filter to have.

Nosotros’ve written about grad filters in the past if y’all want to read more, but the lesser line is that they can exist quite useful at sunrise and sunset. Although in that location are some circumstances where you wouldn’t want to use a grad filter — say, if a tree or sharp mountain peak rises above your horizon — they’re helpful in many cases.

HDR and Blending Techniques

The last method has a few more issues with it, but it’s also quite common: blending multiple exposures of the landscape together.

If yous’ve heard of HDR (loftier dynamic range) photography before, you lot’re already familiar with how this works. You take a serial of photos without altering your limerick at all. It involves taking 2 or more than photos of the scene — ane exposed for the sky, 1 for the foreground, and sometimes other images in betwixt — and then combining the best parts together in mail service-processing.

Creating an HDR

This technique can be useful, since, in some cases, it is impossible to replicate
what we saw in the field
with merely a single exposure. Even the best camera sensors simply don’t have enough dynamic range (although they’re getting close).

One upshot with this method, of form, is that information technology’southward very easy to overdo — to create a upshot with far more highlight and shadow item than you could have seen in the field. Images like that immediately make viewers call foul. They simply don’t look very proficient.

On top of that, HDR photos aren’t a dandy thought if your bailiwick is moving quickly. Call back waves rolling into shore, for example — a situation where your paradigm will look pretty different from shot to shot. Even if you lot’re photographing a tree with leaves blowing in the wind, information technology can be very hard to patch together a workable HDR.

That’s why this isn’t a perfect technique. Merely it is still a
technique, if y’all know its limits. Only a small-scale handful of my photos are HDRs or exposure blends, but it can be a life saver in certain instances.

Finished HDR
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/l, f/16.0

The Creative Side of Photography

No thing what time of twenty-four hours y’all’re taking pictures, the artistic side of photography plays a huge office. Although technical settings like exposure and focusing are necessary to produce
photos, you lot demand to flex your creative muscles to capture something

This includes things like light, emotion, and limerick. Become these right, and you’ll see your photos take a huge step forward.

For the virtually part, the artistic side of photography isn’t unlike at Aureate Hour compared to other times of day. However, in that location are a few considerations that utilize at sunrise or dusk that might not be every bit relevant under other conditions.


First, of course, is the light. It’s not just the color of lite that’s distinct at this fourth dimension of twenty-four hours, either — the angle of low-cal too lowers, and the overall character tends to soften (since it has to filter through much more of the temper).

The fact that the sun is lower on the horizon has some major implications. Most of all, you can plough 180 degrees and get a
totally different quality of lite. Do you lot want backlit silhouettes? Just face in the management of the sun. Do you lot desire long, dramatic shadows? Face 90 degrees away from the sunday, in either direction.

A lot of landscape photographers don’t think about this consciously, but they do it anyway. When the sun is coming from an angle, pay attention to the different types of low-cal you have available, and employ them to your advantage. This is yet some other reason to proceed turning around and looking in unlike directions as yous have pictures. If you always know what’due south behind y’all, it’south much harder to miss something incredible.

Rainbow at sunrise
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 130mm, ISO 100, 1/two, f/16.0
I happened to see this rainbow when I looked backside me one forenoon. I had been taking pictures in the opposite direction, and I almost missed this beautiful show of light.


Lite carries emotion very strongly in your photographs. At sunrise and sunset, the entire grapheme of your landscapes will change.

Use this to your advantage. If the sunset is throwing soft, gentle, beautiful low-cal on your subject, try to take photos of something that is equally pleasing and calm. If you do, you lot’ll amplify the emotional message of the image (since your light and bailiwick both volition be “saying” the same thing).

Or, if information technology’s a stormy dusk, with high dissimilarity and punchy colors, you might wait for subjects that are more than dramatic also. The end goal is for your entire photograph to form a singular, potent message. If the light and subject are giving off conflicting emotions, the overall impact may be muddy. (1 exception — there’s always at least i — is if your deliberate goal for the photo is to capture a sense of conflict, and you lot act on that goal intentionally.)

“Expert light” is simply good because it makes your subject field look right. Even the most beautiful sunset in the world won’t exist ideal for photography if it doesn’t friction match your goal (vision) for the image, or if it doesn’t complement your subject area.

Harsh but good light
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/11.0
I didn’t take this photo at sunrise or dusk, just the light withal works well. Since these mountains are then harsh and foreboding, high-contrast light is a good match.


Most of your limerick at sunrise and sunset revolves around the sky. How much of it do you desire to include? Are the specific clouds important, or would you rather draw attending to the interesting colors in the foreground?

In that location are no clear answers. Even if the sky is magnificent, the all-time photo at a scene might be one that gives more than room to the foreground. It once once more depends upon the type of subject you’re photographing, likewise every bit your programme for the image.

In this photograph, for example, I didn’t intendance about the sky very much. Although it had some interesting clouds, the star of the photograph was the foreground:

Photo showing mostly foreground
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 4/10, f/sixteen.0

Hither, still, my goal was a bit unlike. Instead of trying to showcase an interesting foreground, I wanted to depict the mural’s small scale compared to a large, stormy heaven:

Small foreground and big sky
NIKON D800E + 50mm f/1.iv @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/3, f/16.0

It’s not so much that you lot should prefer one type of composition over the other, but that this decision is especially relevant at sunrise and sunset. If the sky is filled with magnificent colors, information technology can exist difficult to exclude it completely — merely, sometimes, that’s what you’ll have to practice.

Although at that place are some other elements of composition that matter more usual at sunset and sunrise — such every bit finding a way to residue the dominicus, if information technology’due south in your photo — well-nigh principles of limerick hold upwards no different than normal.

Mail service-production Tips

Even if you used a filter, the sky in dusk and sunrise photos tends to be far brighter than the foreground. The solution is post-production.

Your goal is to bring back dynamic range — highlight and shadow detail that might non be visible out-of-camera, but withal exists in your RAW photo. That’southward very easy in most post-processing software. Just subtract the highlights and brighten the shadows.

Still, one area where a lot of photographers mess up is to get too far. If yous boost the shadows until the foreground is
brighter than the sky, there’south a problem. And then, moderation is best.

The same goes for saturation and vibrance. Sunrise and sunset already have so much colour that, often, you won’t need to increase the saturation of your photos as much as you might call back. I tend to stick to +thirty vibrance or less in Lightroom, although your own software may differ. It also varies past image. In this photograph, for example, I didn’t change vibrance or saturation at all, locally or globally:

Landscape with no vibrance or saturation
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 6/10, f/16.0

However, it’s true that cases similar these aren’t the norm. Especially shooting RAW, your photo is probable to look faded and washed-out at first, and information technology will require some processing to get back to normal. Don’t be concerned almost pocket-sized edits like these — or fifty-fifty major adjustments to recover detail, if your scene had a particularly high dynamic range.

At a certain point, though, the image will no longer look realistic. It’s particularly easy to cross that line at sunset and sunrise, when you’re already dealing with intense colors and dissimilarity. So, go along the importance of realism in mind.


There’s a good reason why sunrise and sunset are so popular for photography. The angle, color, and quality of light at these times of twenty-four hour period are rare (or impossible) to observe at any other.

The most important technical thing to continue in mind is dynamic range. You’ll be working with extreme contrast, and you demand to know the correct techniques to capture a good shot anyway.

As for the creative side, it’s crucial that you think about the emotional impact that the light is casting on your subject. Is information technology soft and gentle, or harsh and dynamic? Ideally, you would find a discipline that complements the light so that you tin can send the most powerful possible bulletin.

Go along those two things in mind, and and then post-process your photos advisedly, and you’ll exist good. Taking beautiful sunrise and sunset photos isn’t all that different from photography at other times of day, but it does come with its own set of challenges (as well as opportunities).

Hopefully, you’ll find the tips in this article to be useful adjacent time you’re out capturing the sunrise or sunset. Allow me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or questions, and I’ll do my best to assist!