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Tips on Photographing Sunsets and Sunrises

With a little enthusiasm and a lot of knowledge, anyone can master the art of sunrise and sunset photography over time. timeanddate.com would like to give readers a head start in taking beautiful photos of the sun that are worth framing or sharing with friends and family. This article covers some general tips and tricks that are recommended by many experienced photographers for sunset and sunrise photos.

However, here are few words of warning – readers who wish to try sunrise and sunset photography must never stare at the sun as it can cause permanent damage to the eyes. It is also wise to wear a hat and sunscreen for skin protection, as well as protective eyewear. Moreover, the camera can suffer severe damage if it is pointed directly at the sun, as the zoom lens will accumulate the sun’s rays, heating the insides of the camera and causing burn marks. Also, most cameras will only blend down to the chosen/automatic aperture when the photo is taken. And finally, make sure to have a decent camera and a tripod.

Illustration image

Sunset photographs can be interesting with a little bit of creativity.

©iStockphoto.com/Jacom Stephens

Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets

There are a couple of elements that are worth thinking about when it comes to sunrise and sunset photography – the use of objects, timing, focus, creativity, light metering, and clouds and the weather. Firstly, many photographers recommend finding an object apart from the sun to use in their photo. By having an object, such as a tree, a silhouette of a person, a church spire, or some foreground detail, it adds value to the photo and attracts the eye. Some people may want to try getting tree branches in the picture to frame the sun.

Timing is another vital factor of sunrise and sunset photography. It is important to know when the sun will rise or set. timeanddate.com’s sunrise and sunset calculator can help people find out when the sun will set in their approximate location. After getting an idea of when the sun will rise or set, it is a good idea to arrive on location early. Arriving an hour early allows people to inspect the surroundings of the scene and understand where would be a good spot to take photos, and props or objects that may create a more vivid photo. For sunrises, the best time for a photo may be in the winter because the days are shorter so people do not have to wake up too early to see the sun rise.

It is also important for photographers to look at the camera’s focus. Many cameras have an autofocus ready light to confirm that they are focused. However, some photographers recommend setting the camera on a manual setting and focusing the camera on infinity to lock the focus, hence avoiding a blurry photo.

Being creative can be achieved in more ways than one. For example, with the right amount of exposure, one can create different effects for their photo. According to ePHOTOzine, if the camera has built-in flash, set the exposure to underexpose the background and allow the flash to provide the correct exposure for foreground detail. Foreground detail and a wider aperture can throw the background subtly out of focus with flash to create better exposure for a foreground object. Do not over expose the sky and give emphasis to the sun. Silhouettes of objects can be made by keeping the picture metering with a strong back light source, creating under exposure for front objects. It is also recommended to set the camera to the smallest aperture to give a greater depth of field. To create motion in waves at a beach, some photographers select a half second shutter speed at f/9.5 and rest the camera on some rocks. With composition, it is best to keep the sun up and the sea down. Try to get a scenic view and avoid obstructing objects such as artificial lights (including traffic lights).

Light metering is another noteworthy element of sunset photography. EPHOTOzine recommends taking a reading of the camera meter. The best thing to do is point the camera at the sky and move position so the sun is just out of the frame. Take a reading and use the exposure lock or set the exposure manually with this reading as reference. This ensures that you open up a stop or two so that the surrounds have a little more detail in the shadow areas. Under-exposure can give rich and dramatic colors of the sun. Long exposure is best to be used when the sun sets and light is low, particularly at a beach, to give smooth, misty surface depending on the amount of waves, when the sea is part of the picture.

With regard to clouds and the weather, it is best to check the weather forecast, which can be done through timeanddate.com. The website includes weather forecasts featured information on web pages for many cities around the world. Light clouds or haze can enhance the quality of a photo of the sun. The sky can look dramatic with a haze, while sunlight through the clouds can spark some rich colors in the photo. John Day, the late co-author of “The Book of Clouds”, (cited in SignOnSanDiego.com) said the best sunsets generally occur when there are mid-level clouds present, either alto-stratus or alto-cumulus. Those clouds often produce the deep, red sunsets. When sunlight hits cirrus clouds near sunset, they tend to turn orange or yellow. Big, puffy cumulus clouds usually do not produce colorful photos.

Another popular activity is taking photos of moonrises and moonsets, which also involves a bit of creativity, common sense and some knowledge about cameras.

Adhering to Safety

One must take care of their eyes when taking photos of the sun. Staring at the sun can cause eye damage and staring through a lens with the naked eye that is potentially a magnifier will increase this risk. The camera can also suffer a lot of damage if it is pointed directly at the sun. EPHOTOzine recommends framing up with the sun just out of shot and repositioning to take the photo, whilst not looking directly at the sun. People who use a long lens must avoid looking through the viewfinder when the sun is in the frame.

Disclaimer: timeanddate.com recommends that readers must take care and be sensible when photographing sunrises and sunsets. Readers are responsible for their own actions when it comes to sun photography. If there are any health concerns they may have, it is best to ask advice from a doctor or specialist.


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