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5 Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photos


Sunrise and sunset photos can stir up emotions within a person. Maybe it is because they signify the start and end of a day, or perhaps the hues or sun rays symbolise the beauty of Mother Nature. A good sunrise/sunset image can leave one staring at it for ages, but where do you start, and what would you need to capture such breath-taking shots? In this article, we will look at some simple tips to get sunrise and sunset images, with some beautiful shots from Pierre Huang to illustrate.  



EOS 6D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, f/4, ISO 160, 1/30s, 35mm 

Timing is key to a great sunrise/sunset image. When you get the timing right, the sun would just be over the horizon. Depending on where you are and the conditions of the sky, the hues will change as the sun rises or sets. Apps such as Photopill can tell you the exact time the sun will rise and set based on your location, and it is available for both iOS and Android.  

Most smartphones these days will come with a built-in digital compass as well, so you can use that to gather your east and west bearings, depending on whether you are shooting a sunrise or sunset shot.  


Scouting the location 

EOS 6D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, f/13, ISO 100, 2s, 16mm 

It is important to scout the location in the daytime before the shoot. This way, you will know how long it takes to get there and can plan ahead. For example, traffic may be a hindrance in some countries, so those who want to take sunset images should consider making travel provisions.  

For photographers who are keen on capturing sunrise shots, it is also crucial for you to arrive early. Since it may be dark when you reach the shooting site, it will be good for you to note during scouting to see if there are any hazards around you that you need to be aware of.  


Arriving early, staying on 

EOS 6D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, f/4, ISO 100, 1/15s, 20mm 

Stay on even after you think you’ve seen the best of the sunset, but arrive early before the sun peeks over the horizon for a sunrise shot. Depending on the month of the year and where you are located, the colours in the sky may take on a different hue, or clouds may move in and cast magnificent sun rays. 



Exposure bracketing is often used by landscape photographers to capture the scene with different exposure settings. Also, consider using this function to capture the sky and blend them during post-processing. Canon DPP allows you to have fine control over the blending process, which in turn lets you control how much shadow you want to include and highlight details you want to remain in your shot.   

You can also use a circular polariser on your lens to increase contrast in the photo. One drawback is that you may lose some shadow details, so shoot in RAW to retain as much as possible. Another function of a circular polariser is to control and reduce reflections in the shots, but that reduces the amount of light entering the lens. In the event that your shutter speed is too low, consider using a tripod to get sharp photos.  


Foreground of interest 

EOS 6D Mark II, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, f/4, ISO 100, 1/15s, 20mm 

Look out for foreground interest to add an engaging element to your shots. Foreground also gives context to the location, making the photo more informative than just “another” sunrise or sunset photo. Another way to create interesting elements in your shot is in the choice of lens. A wide-angle or ultra-wide-angle lens will allow you to incorporate more of the surroundings into your photo, while a telephoto lens will allow you to isolate the sun for a tighter shot if you want to emphasise that. As mentioned earlier in the article, scouting the location ahead of time will let you plan for your shots, allowing you to bring the right lens along.    


It’s no secret that practice makes perfect, and that applies to photography, too. Your first few sunrise or sunset photos may be underwhelming, but the key is to not give up. Try to find out what went wrong with the shoot and improve on them the next time around! 


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