Thursday, August 2, 2007


Must of the photos that you see of the sun are usually sunsets rather than sunrises. It is a lot easier for most to stay up til the sunsets rather than get up early for the sunrise. However, shooting sunrises has some advantages. First of all, no one else is out. Secondly, if you are shooting some place like the beach or the dunes, all the footprints from the previous days traffic will be gone. Lastly, there is the compositional aspects to consider. Of course the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (changes a little throughout the year, but not much). So, you will get a vastly different photo when shooting sunrises to the east.

Some tips to keep in mind when shooting sunrises or sunsets:

-It is going to be very dark. Bring a flashlight.

-You must use a tripod as exposure times will be long

-Use a remote release to trigger you camera. Or use the selftimer if timing isn't critucle.

-Use the mirror lock up or anti-shock feature of your camera. This will help insure that the photo won't be soft due to vibrations from the mirror (Only applies to those using DSLRs as compact digital cameras don't make use of a mirror).

-Turn on long exposure noise reduction if your camera has it. Most DSLRs and some compact cameras do. May have dig through the custom menus to activate it.

-Bring your cameas insturction manaul. (You should always carry it with you)

-Use your cameras lowest ISO. This assumes that you can use a very slow shutter speed as needed. For most of you this will require that you use the bulb mode in which the shutter will remain open as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed. Many of the remote releases have a provision to lock the button down until you release it. With my Panasonic LX-2 compact camera, the slowest shutter speed available is 60 seconds, so I had to increase the ISO in order to obtain a correct exposure even when I had the lens all the way open.

-You will have to manually focus. Your camera requires a certain light level to autofocus. If you are setting up before sunrise, you will have precious little (if any light) so you must manaully focus. If you have a DSLR, you can set the lens on infinity. You should note that the lens will likely allow you to focus past infinity. Past infinity?!? This is to take into account the expansion of the lens due to different weather, humidity, and pressure. So, you make have to take a few photos to insure that it is really set at infinity. Almost all compact digital cameras have a manaul focus provision that entails selecing a distance from a distance scale. I simply set mine for infinity. I was happy with results.

-Avoid incorporating any ambient artificial light unless that is the look that you want. It may not seem like much light initially, but during your long exposure, it may add up and become very distracting. The photo here is not of the sunrise. It turned out to be a very overcast day in which you could see the sunrise. This is actually the glow of a nearby city (Bowling Green, OH).

-Set your white balance to daylight. This will preserve the unique colors at that time of day. There is no point at getting up at 5am if you just want to take a photo that looks like it was taken at noon.

-Start taking photos before you even see the sun. There is usually a lot of color in the sky that you don't even notice until you take a long exposure photo and see it. Try it.

-Remember to expose for the highlights. Ensure that you are taking in enough light so that the histogram is very close to the right most wall without touching it. On a recent outing I noticed that some of my students were not doing that because it looked better on the LCD when it was underexposed. That is true. However, it will not look nearly as good as the image that was properly exposed once you begin editing on it the computer.

-Shoot RAW file format (assuming your camera supports it). If it is worth shooting, then it is worth shooting as a RAW file.

-Consider creating a HDR image from multiple, varying exposure (see the previous post for more on HDR).

-Look for reflections in water (assuming there is water) that will give you twice the color.

-Bring a cell phone or a buddy. If you are trouncing around in the dark it is a good idea to have a way of getting some help should you fall and break your leg. Seriously.

Since most web browsers aren't color managed, if you want to see how this image is supposed to really look, copy it to your computer and view it with Photoshop. You can also use the latest version of Safari for Windows as it is the only browser that is color managed.