How to Photograph Sunrise (and Sunset)?

Two times every day, the sky fills with brilliance and wonder. It comes alive. And it demands being photographed! It comes as no surprise that sunrise and sunset photographs far outnumber any other types of photographs. Every day, two times, every place in the world witnesses a majestic play of light in the sky. The one hour before sunrise and the one hour after sunset, famously called the blue hour, is the window of opportunity for every photographer looking to capture the sky and with every passing minute, it gives a different scene to be photographed. As easy as it may seem photographing sunrise and sunset, there is a lot that can be done to make better photographs.

The first step in photographing sunrise or sunset is scouting for a location from where to take photographs. This might not seem like an important because a sunrise or sunset photograph can be taken from almost every place that gets sunlight, which means just about anywhere. But instead of compromising on a location based on comfort, it is rewarding to look for a place beforehand that will provide with a clutter free view of the Sun with, perhaps, a few added bonuses like birds and some trees.

Get a tripod. Yes, not using a tripod brings in camera shake that can spoil a photograph. So it's better to avoid the risk. Now, setup the tripod at the location of your choice, and start clicking about the horizon (a third of the frame filled with the land, and two thirds with the majestic sky or vice versa). If the sky is turning out a bit too bright in the photographs, it means that the scene is getting overexposed i.e. the camera image sensor is staying open to light for a bit too long. Reducing the exposure helps in this. It is recommended that you shoot in manual mode so that you have full control over the exposure settings. To expose properly for the sky (i.e. making sure that sky doesn't turn out overexposed or underexposed), remove the camera from the tripod and point it towards the sky and half-press the shutter release button to meter the sky and look at the exposure level indicator. If it is not at 0, change the exposure accordingly to bring it to 0. Compact digital camera users or DSLR camera users shooting in automatic/semi-automatic modes can use the exposure compensation feature to get the perfect sky exposure.

Now that you know how to get the perfect exposure for the sky, all that remains is to experiment with various compositions and subjects. Birds can complete a sky photograph and for that, all you need is patience and luck. You can setup the tripod at a chosen location, setup the camera exposure as mentioned earlier, keep your finger ready on the shutter-release button, and wait (and hope that birds wander through the scene). As soon as you see a bird or a flock of them approaching your frame, start clicking. Photographing in burst mode would boost your chances of getting a good shot. Also, as mentioned in the opening paragraph of the article, blue hour is usually the best time to photograph sky sans Sun. It provides an unmatched balanced exposure to the whole scene right from the sky to the subject in question.

It must be mentioned here of HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It is a type of photo processing where three or more different exposures of a single scene are merged to get a single photograph having all parts properly exposed. For example, if there is a building in front of the sky (with Sun) being photographed, it will invariably turn as a black silhouette. While it might be desirable in some situations, the photographer might want to get a proper exposure for the building as well as the sky. This is where HDR photography comes in. Three photographs- One exposing the sky properly, another one exposing the building properly, and one exposure in between- when combined through photo editing programs like Photoshop, will produce a HDR image.

If your sunrise or sunset photographs lack that little punch, there is always an option to add contrast and saturation to give the photograph that look you desire.

Author: Ritesh Saini, IIT Mumbai (India)

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice