How to Photograph Landscapes at Sunrise

5 Sunrise Photography Tips

Photographing a sunrise can be a truly magical experience, if you’re not too much of a grump in the mornings! The soft hues of orange, pink, and purple gently painting the sky can create stunning photographs that capture the beauty of nature.

However, capturing the perfect sunrise photograph requires some planning and technique. In this article, I’m sharing five tips to help you photograph a sunrise and make your images stand out.

Throughout my career I’ve had a few moments photographing sunrise outdoors that I reflect back on, when the light aligns with the landscape and you just have to compose the scene, click the shutter and enjoy the moment. It’s these special moments that I want you to have, to be prepared and ready for when you’re photographing sunrise!

Sunrise Photography Tips for Landscape and Travel Photographers


Sunrise Tip #1 – Choose the Perfect Location

One of the essential aspects of capturing a beautiful sunrise photograph is selecting the ideal location to ensure you’re ready for the appropriate direction of light once it rises. Research and identify places where you can capture unobstructed views of the horizon. Look for spots with interesting foreground elements, such as cliffs, trees, or bodies of water, which can add depth and interest to your composition. Planning your location in advance allows you to maximise your chances of capturing a beautiful sunrise photograph. Read more about finding the perfect position in the ‘Weather Forecasting for Landscape Photographers‘ guide.

Sunrise Tip #2 – Arrive Early

Timing is crucial when photographing a sunrise. If you think you’re going to get there early enough, leave an extra 15minutes early, just to really make sure you don’t miss the magic! Arriving at your chosen location at least 30 minutes before the sun is due to rise gives you ample time to set up your equipment, compose your shots, and find the perfect vantage point. Additionally, by arriving early, you can witness the changing colors and lighting conditions leading up to the sunrise, allowing you to capture a variety of stunning shots. Sometimes the moments of blue hour, just before the sun rises are even more colourful and produce better images.

Sunrise Tip #3 – Watch your Camera Settings

To capture the colors and details of a sunrise accurately, it is handy to know the best camera settings and how to adjust them to adapt to the conditions. Adjusting your camera settings manually gives you greater control over exposure, ISO, and shutter speed, allowing you to adapt to the changing light as the sun rises. Start by setting a low ISO to maintain image quality and reduce noise. Use a wide aperture, such as f/8 or f/11, to ensure that your entire composition is in focus, or if you want to get creative with aperture (my go-to) you can opt for an aperture of f2.8 if your lens allows it. If shooting in manual mode, adjust your shutter speed based on the intensity of the light to maintain a well-exposed image, always check it’s not too bright, or too dark. Experiment with different settings to find the perfect balance for capturing the colors and details of the sunrise.

Sunrise Tip #4 Use a Tripod or Create Stability

Because you’ll be photographing the early moments of sunrise in low light conditions, keeping your camera stable is essential to avoid blurry images. If you are more comfortable using a tripod, make sure it’s set up and ready to go before the sunrise begins. Personally, I prefer ensuring my gear has in-built stability so I don’t have to carry a tripod! I shoot with the OM SYSTEM OM-1 which offers incredible stability for low light conditions and means I can actually photograph long exposures completely hand-held. By creating stability with a tripod or just being steady with your camera, it allows you to preventing any unwanted camera shake, especially during longer exposure shots. By keeping steady, you can achieve sharp and high-quality images, even in low light conditions. Additionally, once those stunning colours fill the sky, you can experiment with longer exposure times, creating beautiful effects such as smooth water reflections or capturing movement.

Sunrise Tip #5 Experiment with Composition

Readers of The Wandering Lens will know that I love talking about composition. It’s my favourite part of photography, attempting to create a unique angle, frame or combination of elements. How you compose your sunrise photographs plays an important role in creating an impactful image. Instead of placing the horizon in the middle of the frame, try experimenting with the rule of thirds, use foreground elements to lead viewers eyes toward the sun, or get really artistic and try something a little fun and adventurous. You’ll find more about creative composition techniques here, or you can join The 3-Week Composition Reset to transform how you approach scenes as a photographer.

Related Reading –

Setting the Scene – Sunrise Photography

Photographing Sunrise at Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

Mastering Light: A Quick Guide to Golden Hour Photography

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