Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

Creating a dramatic sunrise or sunset photograph is not that difficult, though there are a few steps to take to be sure it is done well.

Ultimately, there is little difference between a sunrise and a sunset photo. However, you may have better luck with sunrise photos because there are fewer people up at the crack of dawn compared to when the sun is going down. That being said, silhouettes against a sunset are very nice as well. My most recent sunrise photos were shot at 5:45 AM, which means I was up at 4:30 AM in order to get ready and drive out to my location. The time alone may decide which you shoot.

Metering for a sunrise/sunset is quite easy. If the sun is not included in the photograph, simply take an average light reading of the scene and be sure to bracket one stop both up and down.This will help ensure you are getting a properly exposed shot. If the sun is included in your photo, then take a spot meter or center weighted meter reading to one of the sides of the sun in a neutral area of the photograph. Again. be sure to bracket.

I often find that the light in the sky is far brighter than that on the ground, so using a gradual neutral density filter can help to even out these areas of brightness, allowing your camera to capture all the detail in both the sky and the foreground. Be sure to use a tripod as well. Exposures, especially at the beginning of the sunrise or the end of the sunset, could be quite long.

If you are planning on photographing a sunrise or sunset, it will be a good idea to scope out the area you would like to shoot from first to be sure there are not obstructions in your way of a beautiful photograph. Of course, knowing where the sun will rise or set and when it will do so helps as well.

Of course, don’t forget some of the compositional elements that we have already discussed, such as including curves and diagonals, rule of thirds, framing for printing. Most of all, remember to enjoy what you are watching, if even for a brief second. The dramatic results of a sunset or sunrise can disappear very quickly.

The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the vice-president of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to

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