Taking Pictures of Sunsets and Sunrises
The vivid colors in pictures of sunsets and sunrises can produce some of the most spectacular images that you may
photograph. As beautiful as they are, they are not too difficult to capture.
Caution: Remember that you should never stare directly at a bright sun, even through the camera viewfinder. This
can cause permanent eye damage and possibly damage your camera's image sensor.
The following are some tips that can help you get started taking sunrise and sunset pictures.
Make a Plan. You will rarely just by chance find yourself in right place at the right time to photograph a beautiful
sunset or sunrise. There will usually be something blocking the best view or the sun will be setting "over there" when
you are "over here".
Take note of the approximate time the sun sets or rises in your area. Then choose a location where you can get an
unobstructed view of the sky, horizon or whatever you want included in your sunset or sunrise picture. Arrive early
on the day you plan to take your pictures.
Arriving early will give you a chance to take some practice shots and take note of things that you want to include or
exclude from your images. Remember that the most spectacular colors and tones last for only about a half hour
during the sunset or sunrise.
Exposure. A good thing about photographing sunsets and sunrises is that you don't really need to have an exact
"proper exposure". The colors are so great that it won't make much difference if they are a little lighter or darker than
the actual scene. Using the camera in the "automatic" metering mode can produce some pretty good images.
Pointing the camera at the sun will almost always underexpose the rest of the
scene. Sometimes that might produce a nice image, but you might not want all
your sunrise or sunset pictures to come out that way. As an alternative, try
pointing your camera to areas around the sun to get a exposure reading.
(meaning, temporarily leave the sun out of the frame)
Hold or lock that exposure setting and then recompose and take the picture
with the sun in the frame. This will give you a more accurate exposure of the
overall scene. Just keep in mind that you will get different exposure readings
depending on how close or far the sun is away from they area you are using
to take your exposure reading.
It won't make too much difference whether you use a compact camera like the
Canon Powershot ELPH 110 HS or a Digital SLR camera like the Nikon D5100
when you are taking pictures of sunsets and sunrises.
You should be able to get some pretty good shots with either type camera. The big difference is that a Digital SLR
camera will give you more control over exposure settings than a Compact Camera .
If you are using a Compact Point and Shoot camera and your images are too dark or too light, use your camera's
Exposure Compensation (EV+ EV-) feature. The sun in a picture can throw the camera's light meter way off. So
using the exposure compensation feature is a way to quickly adjust to a more acceptable exposure for your images.
If you are using a Digital SLR camera, the previously mentioned procedure will work as well. If you decide to use one
of your manual, or semi-automatic modes, (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority) you will just have to set your
lens aperture openings and/or shutter speeds according to your preference. Check the Camera Exposure Basics
tutorial if you need a little more info about how shutter speeds, aperture setting and ISO work together.
In any case, taking several shots at different exposure settings will give you different levels of shades and tones in
your images. You will then be able to choose which images are the most appealing to you.
Composition. Beaches, plains, and wide open areas are the best places to take sunset and sunrises pictures.
While beach sunset pictures might be some of the most popular scenes, distant mountains or even buildings with the
sun setting around them can also be great shots.
Clouds in the sunrise or sunset pictures will usually make the
image more interesting. Clouds can be wispy, thick, or scattered.
No matter which type are there when you are taking the pictures,
the sun's rays reflecting off the clouds will produce different tones
or colors among the clouds.
Try to resist the urge to place the horizon line directly in the center
of the frame when you are taking pictures of sunsets or sunrises.
If you want to emphasize the sky, place the horizon line somewhere
around the lower third of the frame. If you want to emphasize
something like reflections of the sun on water, try placing the
horizon closer to the upper third of the frame.
No matter where you place the horizon line, try to keep it as level as possible. A slanted horizon might not look too
natural. Also try placing the sun in various positions that are not in the dead center of the frame. (if the sun is
included in your picture)
By using these tips you will be applying some of the principles of the Rule of Thirds when composing your sunrise
and sunset pictures. However, just like any other rule, it can be broken and you might still come up with a great
The brightness of the sun will cause foreground objects to become silhouettes in many pictures. Try placing objects
like trees, birds, or even people in the foreground as silhouettes. This can add a little more interest to the overall
All sunrise and sunset pictures don't have to be taken in the direct path of the sun. Look behind you or to your left
and right. During this time period the sun emits a warm glow that can make even ordinary scenes or objects more
Focusing. Usually focusing shouldn't be too much of a problem. Just let your camera use its automatic focusing
mode. However, sometimes the auto focus will not work when you point at the sky. In that case, focus on a distant
object somewhere else in the frame.
Hold that focusing point or use your camera's lock focus feature, then re-compose your picture and take the shot. If
you are using a Digital SLR camera you can use the manual focus feature or just set the focusing distance to infinity.
(that is as long as you are far enough from the scene)
White Balance. You might be just fine with your camera set to the
Automatic White Balance (AWB) mode when taking your pictures.
However, sometimes the AWB might try to adjust the color tone in a
picture might try to eliminate some of the deep colors found at
Fortunately, most cameras will have a sunset/sunrise scene mode
that wont eliminate the sunset/sunrise colors. Try using that mode
and it should leave the warm tone in your images when you are
shooting sunsets and sunrises
If you are the creative type, experiment by using some of the other white balance settings when you are taking
sunrise or sunset pictures. You might come out with some really odd looking color tones for the scene. Those color
schemes might not be for everyone, but then, what true artist is satisfied with the same look as everyone else?
picture just right. However, that doesn't always happen when you are taking pictures. In those cases you might want
to try using a basic photo editing program like the Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements to make
minor adjustments to your images.
Both of those software programs are great for adjusting exposures as well as color tones. There are also a ton of
other editing features that you might find useful for images other than your sunrise and sunset pictures.
Bring a Tripod. Remember that when you are taking sunset and sunrise pictures, the available light can be weak at
times and slower shutter speeds might be required. Using a tripod at those slower shutter speeds can eliminate blur
caused by camera shake. However, if you don't have a tripod, there will usually be enough light to hand hold the
camera once the sun has risen to the horizon or before it has sunk below the horizon.
Make sure you take plenty of sunrise or sunset shots, and hopefully you will be pleased with the end results. If not,
then remember, "Practice makes Perfect".