Tips & Tutorials

4 Keys to Shooting Pre-dawn Landscapes

Pre-dawn photography captures the cool and calm blue tones of the period just before sunrise, also known as the blue hour—which can result in a captivating landscape photo.  In this article, we explore 4 key factors to achieving such a shot: shooting time, lighting, shooting functions, and processing. (Report by: GOTO AKI)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 17mm/ Aperture-Priority AE mode (f/22, 25 sec, EV±0)/ ISO:100/ WB: Daylight/ Picture Style: Landscape
Good example
Lake Toya, Hokkaido in mid-May. The surface of the lake is depicted smoothly with a slow shutter as if the world bathed in blue extends to the surface of the lake as well. With the horizontal in mind, I decided to use a symmetrical composition .


Key 1: Shooting time - 30 minutes before sunrise

The colour temperature is high in the time before sunrise, allowing you to capture the image of a world bathed in blue. This shot was taken in the middle of May at Lake Toya  in Hokkaido where the sun rises at around 04:10AM due to the high latitude. At 03:40AM, I managed to capture a blue world that was changing with every moment.

Bad example
The blue colour becomes weaker if the shot is taken after the sun has risen.


Key 2: Lighting - Set white balance to 'Daylight' for true-to-eye colours

The period before dawn, right before the sun rises each morning, is also when the sky is lit up with bluish light. That's why it is also commonly known as the "blue hour". If you set the white balance to Daylight, the blue light will be depicted as seen by the naked eye, reproducing the cool atmosphere of the morning. With Auto White Balance, however, the colour tone will be corrected. (Read more about the difference between AWB and Daylight


Key 3: Shooting functions - Slow shutter speed, to obtain a smooth water surface

The surface of the lake was calm when I observed it. If you use a slow shutter speed, such as 25 sec, the surface of the lake willl be depicted as smooth as a mirror, and the colour of the sky will also be reflected in it. This makes the landscape not only look vast, but also cool-blue and translucent.

Bad example
The texture of the waves are visible when shot at 1/30 sec.


Key 4: Processing - Use Picture Style for a vivid blue finish

I set the Picture Style to Landscape in order to highlight the blue colour as this mode increases the colour saturation. Compared to Standard mode, the blueness of the sky appears more vivid and is also depicted more densely and clearly when reflected on the water surface.

Bad example
If the picture is taken with the Picture Style set to Standard, there will be insufficient colour saturation.


EOS 5D Mark III (Body)


EF17-40mm f/4L USM



Born in 1972 in Kanagawa Prefecture and graduated from Sophia University and Tokyo College of Photography. Goto published a photo collection work titled "LAND ESCAPES" and is also actively engaged in works such as “water silence” an installation that merges photographs with videos.

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