How To Photograph Sunset and Sunrise

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Sunset and Sunrise Photography Tips


You got an early night, got all your prep down pat and are up in the dark hours of the early morning to catch an epic sunrise ( If you missed our last post on how to photograph Sunrise make sure you catch up).

Now to the best photography tips and best camera settings for sunrise. These will help you capture that amazing golden image you will treasure long after your adventure is over.

A couple of quick points to note before we go any further. Although your preparation before may be slightly different, most of the photography tips in this post can be used for both sunrise and sunset photography.

And an important word of caution…never look directly at the sun. Especially through a camera. Always use the live view function on your camera.

You have made it to the perfect location to capture those magic rays of sunlight, got the tripod and camera all set up.

Now, how do you photograph sunsets and sunrises?

Best camera equipment For Sunrise and Sunset Photography

Setting yourself up with the right photography equipment is a great way to give yourself a headstart on capturing amazing sunset pictures. Here are some basic items you will need. 

Best Camera For Sunrise And Sunset Pictures

The camera for landscapes and creative photography is a full frame DSLR. You are going to need to be able to use manual mode and set exposure time amongst other things.

If you have read any of my previous photography posts you know I love my Canon. There are so many styles and brands to choose from though. I’ve been seriously considering switching over to a mirrorless Sony as they are so much lighter. 

Best Lens For Sunrise And Sunset

As a general rule, you will want a wide lens. Most sunrise and sunset images tend to be of landscapes and you will want to capture as much of that landscape as possible. This is is usually in the range of 14-24mm

Of course, these aren’t the only lens you can use and maybe more important is to consider the aperture of the lens.  A low aperture is going to help you capture the best images with an f/2.8 being fast and allowing you to let in enough light to capture the beautiful colors of the landscape and sky.  

I rarely take off my lens and most of the images in this post were captured with a 24-70mm lens f/2.8

Other Camera Equipment


 Sunset and Sunrise Photography Settings


What is the best setting for sunset photography?

  • RAW Image format
  • Manual Mode
  • Manual Focus
  • ISO 50-100
  • F/16 
  • 10-20 Seconds Shutter Speed

Use this as a quick start guide for sunrise and sunset photography settings then follow these next steps to perfect your images and experiment with your camera settings. 

When you are experimenting with fast-changing light it is a good idea to bracket your images ( find out about that here ). Another tip is to always set your settings to suit the brightest part of the image and go towards underexposing your images rather than overexposing as it is easier to tweak this in post-processing. 


Set Up Your Camera Gear 

Set your camera on the tripod and make sure it is level ( you don’t want crooked horizons ruining your sunset images). You are going to be doing long exposures to make sure you get the best light and don’t want them spoilt with camera shake.

You will also need to have some kind of remote shutter release. Some cameras allow you to do this with an app, or you could use a Cable Release, or even just set the timer on your camera for 2-5 seconds. 

Head to your camera settings and lock your mirror up. Then turn off the image stabilization on your lens. 

All this will help you have clear, crisp photographs with no camera shake or blur. 


Which Mode Is Best For Sunrise Photography?

There are a couple of modes you can use. Aperture Priority ( Unsure about how to change these on your camera? Watch a couple of YouTube clips on your camera make and model) or Manual.

Aperture Priority will allow you to set the aperture and the camera will work out the Shutter Speed for you ( great for photography beginners if it’s all a little daunting).

Manual will allow you the freedom and creativity to create the best images and will let you capture the best sunset or sunrise photos.

A mode that you should really not be using is Auto. If you are not brave enough to get out of Auto mode you are just lugging around an expensive point and shoot. It may take a while to learn how to use your camera but it will be worth it in the long run.

Experimenting and practicing are the only way you are going to be able to make those photographs exactly how you want them. And the great thing about digital photography is you can quickly delete any images you aren’t happy with. 


Manual Focus

With low light situations, your lens may struggle with autofocus. Putting it into manual focus will allow you greater control and freedom to choose the focal point you want in your image. 


ISO Camera Settings For Sunrise And Sunset

ISO is how sensitive the camera is to the light you let in through the lens.

This should be set on your lowest setting. On my camera, this is ISO 50 but this will depend on your camera. Between ISO 50 and ISO 100 is best. 


Aperture Setting For Sunrise Photography

The Aperture is how much light is let into the camera.

Set your aperture to an f-stop value of at least F/11. The higher the f-stop value the smaller the aperture ( so less light let into the camera)  and the greater the depth of field ( what is in focus on your image).

For landscape photographs you will usually want as much of your image in focus as possible, so a higher f-stop number is ideal. Try with f/16 first then experiment to see what effects you can get. 

If you want to get into all the gory tech detail here is a great article.


How To Take Sunrise Photos
Sometimes the beauty of a sunrise is the colors that come alive in the landscape. During the searing heat the variety of hues at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California disappear completely.


Best Shutter Speed For Sunrise Photography

Shutter Speed is how long light is let into the camera for.

If you have your camera in Aperture Priority mode the camera will automatically set this for you.

In Manual Mode then you will need to play with shutter speed until you get the correct exposure and effect you want. To compensate for the lower amount of light let into your camera due to natural light and aperture setting, the shutter speed will get slower ( under 1/60 which means 1/60th of a second). When the light is minimal you may be using shutter speeds up to 30 seconds.

This is works together with the aperture to create the perfect capture. So if you change the aperture you will have to change the shutter speed too. 

As the light will be changing quickly at these times of day you may have to be constantly changing the shutter speed to get the best exposure. 


Working Out Exposure For Sunrise Photography

The sun can create high-contrast situations. Make sure you expose for this by pointing your camera at the brightest point in the area you want to capture to set the exposure.

Also, bear in mind this will make the darker parts of your image even darker. The light will be changing very quickly during sunrise and sunset so make sure you keep adjusting and checking your exposure.


Sunset and Sunrise Photography Hacks

There are no right or wrong settings. The key is to experiment and create. You may want a dark and moody image so purposely underexpose your image..its all up to you. Start with a setting then play from there. You may also find you will want slightly different camera settings for sunset photography and sunrise. 


Sunrise Photography Tips


“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams


Photography Composition Tips

Making the perfect image can be a little daunting, especially if you are still working on the technical side of photography.

Keep these simple things in mind though and remember the big picture. It’s all about enjoyment. Play with your images and experiment. The perfect thing about digital cameras is it’s so easy to take a quick look to see if your idea worked, delete it if not and move on to the next idea. Learn and create.

Here are a few tips that you can experiment with to create amazing images.

Look at the scene without the camera.

  • What draws your eye first?
  • Where are the interesting parts of the scene?
  • What story would you like to share in your image?
  • How do you feel?
  • What would you like the person viewing your photograph feel?


Keep these in mind while thinking about the following:


Rule of Thirds

Imagine your frame is split into three, both vertically and horizontally.

Now place spots of interest on those lines.

Maybe you want to focus on the colors of the changing landscape rather than the sky. Place your horizon on the top third of the image.

If it’s the sky you want to focus on, place the horizon on the line in the bottom third of the frame.

A perfectly timed sail-boat magically appeared in your shot? Place it on one of the points to create interest.


Layers In Photography

To help set a sense of scale as well as creating interest for your image you need to create layers.

Have a foreground, mid-frame, and background. This creates a sense of depth to your images, making them real. Place interest in these areas.

Maybe there’s a rock in the foreground that has the light reflecting off it? Or amazing shadows in the background. Work on making these part of how to take a sunrise photo. 


Beautiful Sunrise captured in Queensland by A Little At Large


Click here for 5 easy tips to get your beach photographs looking amazing, from beach sunset photography tips to camera setting and more.


Turn Around

Don’t just point your camera at the sunrise or sunset. Have a look around. The colors and shadows created by the light can make for some great images that don’t have the actual sun in them.


Photography Tips For Sunrise
While capturing this sunset in Sedona, Arizona I was told by a stranger I was facing the wrong way. I’m pretty happy with what I captured though.


How To Do Photography Effects


How To Create A Starburst Effect

To get a starburst effect use the widest lens you have and set your aperture to as high as you can. This is usually F/22.
The higher that f-stop number the bigger the starburst.
Cover the lens while you get your settings right. You can just shade it with your hand until you have them set then let that sun stream in.
How To Create Sunbursts In Photos
Sunrise at Monument Valley, USA


How To Do Silhouettes In Photos

These make a great focal point in an image and add mood to your photograph.

Silhouettes are very easy with sunrises and sunsets.

Just place your subject or object between you and the camera, making sure the sun is behind them. Set your exposure based on the brightest part of your image, not on the part you want to be silhouetted.

The best silhouettes are shapes that have little interest and are also very recognizable. There are some great samples and tips here.


How To Take Amazing Sunset Photos
Palm Trees create beautiful silhouettes in Fiji.



How To Photograph Water

If are near moving water you might want to create the smooth silky effect with a really slow shutter speed ( anything under 1/60).

Or increase the shutter speed for a freeze effect.

With such low light it is going to be a balancing act, so think about the effect you want and start balancing.

To get that silky effect and the correct exposure you may need to decrease your aperture or increase your ISO.

Travel with Meraki –  Don’t pack up too early. The light and colors change so quickly during sunrise and sunset. You can never be sure what will happen until the sun is deftly up or down.

Photography is a skill. Keep experimenting. The more you practice and play the better your images are going to be. You will start to be able to predict how an image will look, and create the photographs you want.

I hope this post has helped you get out and create some amazing images and giving you some tips on how to photograph sunsets and camera settings.


Click to see what equipment and tools we use for all our photographs


How To Take Better Sunrise and Sunset Photographs

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