A Cheat Sheet Guide To Sunrise and Sunset Photography

Finding the perfect sunrise or sunset and being in place with the right kit to shoot it is a challenging task, but with the following tips you’ll be a step closer to snapping your perfect shot.

Location, location, location

If the sky is clear and you get the sudden urge to rush out with your camera and snap the sunset of a lifetime, then knowing in advance the best spot in your local area means you won’t lose precious minutes finding somewhere to pitch up. High ground is always a winner or locations that frame the sunset such as through trees or a cityscape.

To help you find the perfect location, try an app called ‘The Photographer’s Ephemeris’. This helps you plan outdoor photographic shoots in natural light by giving you the time and direction of sunrise and sunset at any location on Earth. This can, for instance, help you plan the exact time, date and location to shoot a perfectly centred sunrise over your favourite lake.

Photographer's Ephemeris

If you’re shooting a sunrise, bear in mind most photographers arrive on location an hour before the actual event to capture the best light, so pack warm clothes and a flask. Equally for sunset, aim to get to your location for Golden Hour. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to be running up a hill with your camera and tripod in hand with 2 minutes to go before sunset, though depending on your post-production skills, the occasion could still pay off!

Get the settings right

If you have left it late in reaching your location, here are a few tips on pre-setting your camera to make the most of your shoot.

- Shoot in RAW

What all photographers crave is a lens that captures the exact light your eyes see, until that lens comes we’ll have to settle for shooting in RAW. This large image file captures as much warmth and vibrancy as is digitally possible, meaning you have more to work with in post-processing later.

- Set White Balance

Having your camera set to Auto balance might be enough, but if the photos you’re taking come up as too cold on your display, then setting your balance to ‘Daylight’ or ‘Cloudy’ will warm the shot.

- Set Aperture Priority

Of course, there’s no set in stone rule to follow when it comes to shooting modes, it all depends on the effect you want from your shoot. Aperture priority will, however, give you a good degree of control over depth of field. Setting a small aperture of around f/22 is ideal for keeping more of your landscape in focus.

- Low ISO

ISO adds noise to an image, which is particularly noticeable in darker conditions. The rule of thumb is to always keep this setting as low as possible. In full daylight, that’ll be ISO 100 or ISO 200, but at sunrise or sunset, that’ll most likely be around ISO 800.

ISO explained

Play with your composition

If you’re in a city at sunset, you’ll likely see people point their cameras and phones directly at the sun and start shooting. However, what if you did something a bit different to make your sunset stand out? You could shoot the light that reflects off a building or structure, or point at the sun but through a fountain to get a unique watery effect. Turning away from the sunset altogether might reveal a wildly colourful skyline that everyone else is missing out on!

Once everyone has dispersed after sunset and Golden Hour has come to a colourful close, hang around a bit for ‘Blue Hour’. This is a narrow length of time, of about 10 to 15 minutes, where there is still enough light to capture dramatic landscapes, however with significantly less light comes the need for a tripod, so keep one handy.

blue hour sunset

Sunrise and sunset offer photographers a great window of time to truly test their metal and use all the light they can to capture stunning photographs. If you want to learn more about how you can manipulate light, check out our interactive Exposure Triangle.

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