(This month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge we are working on popular photography subjects and styles. The week of August 3rd will focus on sunrises and sunsets. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)
Better Sunrise and Sunset PhotographsTip 1: Know When to Shoot
Timing is critical for sunrise and sunset photographs. For best results you want to be in position at least a half an hour to an hour beforehand and stay at least a half an hour to an hour afterwards. Sunlight will continue to strike the clouds and illuminate the sky for some time before the official sunrise and after the official sunset.
Sunrise and sunset times are quite easy to come by, just be sure that you are getting the timing for your specific location and time zone. Time and Date.com is a simple-to-use web site where you can search by location and receive sunrise and sunset times (and moon rise and moon set times) for a specific day or an entire month at a glance. The Photographers' Ephemeris is another excellent tool for determining sunrise and sunset times, but that leads us to tip #2 ...
Tip 2: Know Where to Shoot
Knowing when is only half the battle for sunrise and sunset shots. You also want to know where exactly in the sky to expect the sun to rise or set. This is when you will want to consult The Photographers' Ephemeris. The ephemeris is free to download on your computer or laptop, or you can pay to download the app onto your phone or tablet ($4.99 for Android or $8.99 for iPhones and iPads). (*Update: the downloadable version for desktops is being discontinued and replaced with a - still free - web version. Web version pictured below.)
The ephemeris provides you with sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set times in addition to the angles at which each will be in the sky. You plot your location on the map, and then you can see exactly where the sun will line up when it rises, for example. If you want to capture the sun or moon relative to a specific location or landmark, you can move yourself around on the map and find out exactly where you would have to stand. (You can see more examples and specifics in the article Shoot the Moon with the Photographers' Ephemeris.) Try it on your computer, and once you realize you cannot live without it, invest in the app.
Tip 3: Watch the Clouds
The clouds will make or break your sunrise and sunset photographs. Too many clouds, and you will lose your ability to see the sunrise or sunset. Too few clouds, and you are left watching only subtle changes across a blue sky. Clouds often provide much of the drama and excitement in sunrise and sunset photographs. Clouds bounce and reflect the varying light of the sun, adding a wide range of colors and tones to your final image. Clouds create patterns and shapes that add interest and textures. If you want to shoot a better sunrise or sunset shot, you will want to cheer on the clouds.
|This photo is nothing without these amazing clouds.|
A sunrise or sunset is just a sunrise or sunset unless you provide some additional interest within the frame. If you want to make your sunrise and sunset photographs stand out, then you need to pay attention to your foreground.
Tip 4b: Include Some Water
This is really an extension of the idea of foreground interest, but water is a clear winner when shooting sunrise and sunset shots. Ponds, rivers, lakes, or even the ocean create a vast canvas for your sunrise or sunset shots. Still water creates stunning reflections that can double the light and drama of the scene. Even moving water will reflect and bounce around the light, adding interest and color to your photographs.
Tip 5: Nail the Exposure
Sunrise and sunset shots are difficult for your camera to accurately choose the exposure, and if you let your camera control exposure you will find that the shots you take do not match the vision or grandeur of the sunrise or sunset you witnessed.
Option 1: Meter off the Blue Sky
You can use a patch of blue sky to "tell" your camera where to set the exposure and then recompose and take your photograph. With a point-and-shoot camera, point your camera at the patch of blue sky and then press and hold the shutter button half-way down. This will lock both the focus and the exposure. Move your camera back to the composition that you want and then push the button the rest of the way down to take the picture. (Read more about this strategy of "focus and recompose" in the article Teaching Kids Photography: shooting modes, focus, and exposure.)
Option 2: Use Exposure Compensation
If you cannot find a large enough patch of blue sky or you want a more consistent solution, then you should set your exposure compensation. On both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, you should have an exposure compensation line graph. (Some phone cameras and apps also have an exposure option.) For sunrises and sunsets, I have found that an exposure compensation of -1 often works well. You can either set your exposure compensation to -1 or use bracketing to shoot a series of shots (like, -1, 0, +1 or better yet, -2, -1, 0) and then choose your favorites later on your computer. An exposure of -1 makes it more likely that darker elements will become black silhouettes and that a bright sky will have more depth and drama. (Read more in the article Explaining Exposure and Exposure Compensation.)
Sunrise and Sunset PhotographsOf course, as with most photography, the key elements in getting the best sunrise and sunset photographs are time and patience. Make a commitment this week and plan time in your schedule for photographing either a sunrise or sunset. Put all or just a few of these tips into practice, and see what kind of an impact they can make for you!
(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)