Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly Flow The Days | How To Capture Stunning Sunrise and Sunset Photos

Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunrise or sunset? The best thing about photographing sunrises and sunsets is that you always know where they are going to show up! Unlike wildlife or people (not that those two are the same), you can count on the sunrise and sunset every single day. They are also different each day depending on the elements. That is what draws me to photograph them.

There are few things I’ve learned about photographing the sunrises/sunsets that you may find helpful.

First, it isn’t always about the actual sun. Mostly it isn’t! It’s about the sky as much as that bright round thing that sits in it! Sometimes I plan to take the photo and sometimes it just presents itself. There is also a difference in the time of day. Sunrises tend to be brighter and warmer and sunsets typically show cooler.

BE REALLY CAREFUL!  You don’t want to look directly at the sun through your viewfinder.  It can be dangerous! The sun’s bright light can damage your eyes. You can wear sunglasses or use the live view feature on your camera. (I use the latter).

As you can see in these photos, the sun isn’t even visible. It is all about the show. One trick I have learned, is to set your white balance on “cloudy” for the best color. It really deepens and enriches it. (As a matter of fact, I keep my white balance on cloudy most of the time. It was a trick I learned from a professional photographer while on a photo excursion in Yellowstone). Watch your exposure…as the sun rises and sets, metering will bounce around.

Scope out places that include foreground elements and silhouettes.  Create silhouettes at sunrise or sunset by focusing on the brightness behind your subject.

If you are fortunate enough to live (or to travel) out West, getting the sunset or sunrise on the red rocks is incredible. Since I live on the East Coast, most of my sunsets involve water.

Shoot at a variety of exposures. Underexpose by 1-2 stops for a more vivid color. You can get some stunning photos at different exposures. I have been asked about using filters. Certainly you can, but I prefer not to. I just shoot right out of the camera.

Different aperture and shutter speeds will also give you different outcomes. There is no right or wrong way to go.If you decide to post process, you can drop the exposure even more and increase the contrast.

Do you always need to use a tripod or long exposure? No you don’t! I have set up my tripod and used my timer for long exposures and gotten great results. I have also placed my camera on something to brace it like a fence or ledge. And…. I have taken many handhelds. The photos below were taken strictly handheld.  I rarely take a tripod when I am on vacation. The trick here is to focus on the brightest part of the sky and use a fast shutter.

For this photo of Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park in Utah, I set the camera on a rock to steady it.

This photo at Bryce National Park is entirely handheld. I was hiking in the early morning and just stopped and snapped the photo. I used a fast shutter and I metered on the sky to the right of the sun.

This photo at Monument Valley was taken with my camera on a balcony rail; I was holding the camera to steady it.

And this sunset photo at the Smith Mountain Lake in Western Virginia was entirely handheld.

There are definitely times where I am more deliberate. The photos below were taken using a tripod and a remote timer to avoid camera shake.  If you want to get a starburst effect, you need to use a small aperture (larger f-stop…  like f/22). Also, try to get the sun peeking over the horizon or have an object to partially block it. You’ll get the best starburst that way.

Catching the sun just as it comes over the horizon will get you beautiful sky color and a starburst. Shooting with a wide angle can create some great landscape shots.

If you are near water, reflections can be amazing.  Remember the rule of thirds.  It creates more interest if you place the sun or the horizon off center.

I know we mostly think of vibrant color at sunrise or sunset. Play around with B&W conversion. It can highlight the sun and add visual and dramatic interest.

Try different angles…get down low.

Stay for awhile and watch the sky change. For the following photos, I planned ahead and checked the sunrise and sunset times. I arrived about 30 minutes prior to sunset to get set up and to take lots of photos of the changing sky. The series of photos below were all taken of the same sunset. As you can see, the sky changed dramatically over that 30-45 minute period. I stayed for awhile after and watched the sky and then captured the moon rise.

Pretty….

More dramatic….

Colors getting deeper…

And then very vivid!

If your camera has trouble focusing, you can switch over to manual focus to get sharper shots.

And then there was the moon rise!

Look for locations that provide interest, in the form of foreground objects, reflections, etc. Water and mountains are always good choices.

The other thing to consider is the weather. We tend to think clear skies are best, but in reality, clouds hanging in the sky can create drama and they seem to soak in color.

One last bit of advice. Don’t underestimate your cell phone camera! One thing the CY365 group has taught me over and over is “the best camera is the one you have with you.” I took these photos with my phone and they are still beautiful.

This sunrise was actually taken through the window at a B&B in the mountains.  To get rid of the noise, I edited it quite a bit and really over-saturated the colors.

There are many phone editing apps that allow you to enhance the colors and details as well.  (I tend to use PS Express and Mextures for my phone photos.)

Just out for a stroll and the sky became so pretty so quick I had to capture it.

Another stroll while visiting family in Maryland. This is the Solomon’s Island Bridge at sunset. As you can see, a cell phone works just fine when you don’t have your camera with you.

I have heard groaning about how early sunrise is…but truly, it is such a beautiful and quiet time of day that I am never disappointed when I make the effort to watch it! But if sunrise isn’t your thing, just wait for the sunset!


25 Comments

  1. Linda Veldhuizen

    Thank you for all of the fabulous tips! I am encouraged to set the alarm a little earlier to get to some fantastic places. I love the cloudy wb setting idea, I look forward to trying it!

  2. Love your photos! I too love to photograph sunrise and sunset. I have trouble with sun spots! How do you avoid these? I have tried different settings and filters, etc. Can’t seem to figure it out. They are very annoying and take away from the beauty of the photo in my opinion.

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thanks Linda…

      Sometimes it can be caused by filters…. so I don’t use them. I also use a lens hood every time I am outside. It could also be the lens you are using.

  3. Sue Griffin

    What an informative post. Love all your beautiful photos and tips.. Thanks for sharing tips

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thank you, Sue! I am so pleased you found the tips helpful!

  4. Kay Lucien

    I confess, I rarely read the blog posts, but so glad I did today! You have truly outdone yourself! Gorgeous photos and great tips! Bravo!!

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thank you for taking the time to read, Kay! Much appreciated!

  5. Rhadonda

    EPIC to infinity!!! Great photos. Great tips. Great first blog post!! Great great great ( :

  6. Peggy Pryor

    Great information Garnett. Your photos are absolutely beautiful!

  7. Amy Obi

    Thank you so much for this amazing and informative post! There are several pointers I wasn’t aware of that would certainly help improve my photography skills… Now, I just have to wake up early to challenge the sunrise!

  8. Amy Jordan

    Garnett your post is not only stunningly beautiful but very informative too!! I didn’t know the “cloudy” tip going to give that a try! Thanks for inspiring us to get up early and stay out late!!

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thanks Amy! And thank you for pointing me to this amazing group!

  9. Lee Glasby

    Wow Garnett, these are beautiful, I don’t get to see that many fabulous sunsets (need to get up to see the sun rises!) I am loving your photos and I am off on holiday soon, unfortunately where we stay the hills block out the sunrise and the sunset, but this makes me want to climb the mountain to see the sunset’s at the other side! Thanks for the tips, I will try to remember them.

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thank you Lee! I hope you have a splendid time on vacay with that new camera!

  10. liz allen

    YOU ARE FREAKING UNBELIEVABLE.

    THIS IS SERIOUSLY IMPRESSIVE.

    THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO.

  11. Martha Schlesselman

    Fabulous post, Garnett! And such beautiful images. That second purple-pink-magenta one is outstanding. So gorgeous!! I do hope you have that – or one of these – framed or mounted somewhere in your home. Just stunning!

    • Garnett Hutchinson

      Thank you, Martha! I do have a few on canvas around the house. 🙂

  12. This is an excellent blog post! Very informative! Your photos are beautiful!

  13. Sharon Billings

    This is a fabulous blog post, Garnett!! I love all your very beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I think your photos with water are fantastic, probably because living in a mountainous area I rarely get sunsets or sunrises with “huge” water. Thank you for a very informative blog post with great information!

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