Tips to take great sunrise photography

One of my favourite times of the day to photograph is at sunrise. The soft light makes landscape images much more interesting. Also, there are less people at sunrise than at sunset. That is specially important if your sunrise location is a popular tourist destination.

There are several factors to consider before setting your alarm clock for 3AM.

  • Location, location, location. Do some research in advance of the site. And it is important that your foreground is facing east.
  • Weather forecast. I always check the weather the night before the sunrise shot. I prefer sunny with a few clouds. A sunny day without clouds can get you a nice gradient, but the clouds in the sky make it more interesting. The ultimate decision should be made when you get up. If the weather changes drastically (eg. overcast, light rain), maybe it would be better to have your sunrise shot another day with more favourable conditions.
  • Overnight parking restrictions. Some locations restrict overnight parking. So you are arriving for a sunrise shot in the summer, you are looking to be on site with your camera and tripod set by 4:30am. So be careful to not get a ticket (or worse, get the vehicle towed).
  • Dress for the weather. Some places, especially in Canada, are not warm early in the morning. And you don’t want to miss the perfect light just because it is a bit chilly. And in the winter, proper winter gear, including special mittens with openings for the fingers will definitely make a difference while shooting.
  • Bring ND filters. ND filters make a big difference in sunrise landscapes. The ground is darker than the sky and you want to balance both. I use 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 (individually or combined, depending on the exposure).


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