15 Sunrise Photography Tips

Sunrises are easy to admire but difficult to fully realize on film. If you’ve been traipsing through the dark and struggling to capture the full beauty of the dawn, here are just a few sunrise photography tips that will improve your efforts. Find out which are the best settings, angles, and tricks you can use while shooting the sunset with CreativePhotoConnect!

1. Upgrade Your Camera

You simply can’t take good sunrise photos with a cheap camera. They don’t offer the range of light and focus settings that you need to capture sharp, clear images, and you’ll require that kind of flexibility when you’re shooting in an area where the light is constantly changing. The right camera is one that works just as well in total darkness as bright sunshine, and that’s a DSLR, not a smartphone.

dslr camera

2. Set Your Alarm

You won’t find any tips for sunrise photography that don’t mention scheduling. Since your window of opportunity is so narrow, you’ll need to time things to the minute if you want a successful photo shoot. What time can you expect the dawn? How long will it take you to set up your equipment before it comes? How long will you have until the sun fully rises?

3. Modify Your Aperture

Wide apertures will give you soft, out-of-focus sunrises that look great in dreamy landscape photos. Smaller apertures will capture strong and striking horizons that dominate their foregrounds. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to your personal preferences as a photographer, so experiment with different apertures as you please.

aperture closeup

4. Read the Weather Report

Most sunrise photography tips assume that you’ll be shooting under clear skies, but don’t be afraid to have fun in other weather conditions, too. As long as you have a rain cover, you can shoot in everything from morning drizzles to tropical storms. You might also find that dense clouds make for some of your most roiling photos, so the hour before the storm is also great.

5. Put the Sunrise in the Background

This may sound counterproductive to taking sunrise photos, but you can achieve some really dynamic shots by putting the horizon behind a different focal point. For example, you might focus on a mountain with the sun rising behind it, or you might capture the pinks and yellows of the dawn between the splayed fingers of a model. Everything will look pretty with a sunrise, so go nuts.

sunrise flower closeup

6. Remove Your Filters

Do your sunrise photos have strange shapes or ghostly “second suns” appearing in the frame? The problem might be with your camera filters. At certain angles, a camera aimed at the sun can take in light through its filters and bounce/refract it in odd ways. Some people enjoy the effect; others want it to quit ruining their photos. If you’re in the latter camp, removing your filters should also remove the problem.

7. Create Silhouettes

Silhouettes look amazing against a sunrise, especially when you capture the person or object in profile. Having them face the camera will create a kind of black, shadowy hole where their front is supposed to be, but putting them in profile will allow the sun to glance off their features and highlight the details of their face and hair.

red cloudy sunrise

8. Go Manual

Autofocus doesn’t usually work well with most of the sunrise photography tips that you’ll find. It’s assumed that you’ll be working in manual mode so that you’ll have full control of angles, zooms, focal lengths and exposure levels. If you’re having trouble putting any techniques into practice, make sure that your camera is switched to manual mode.

9. Bracket Your Shots

If you’re struggling with exposure levels, consider “bracketing” your shots by going both above and below what your camera suggests. For example, if your camera thinks that the ideal aperture is f/4, take a few shots at f/2, f/4 and f/8. This is one of the more common sunrise photography tips that utilizes your camera’s built-in light sensors while also accounting for personal taste and circumstance. Some cameras even have an “auto exposure bracketing” (AEB) setting.

cloudy sunrise sky

10. Learn the Basics of HDR

High dynamic range (HDR) photography combines multiple images into one so that its “range” of light includes both the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. It’s a handy technique that you’ll see referenced in many sunrise photography tips because of the full range of colors that it offers.

To create HDR images, follow these steps:

  1. Take multiple, identical shots of the same sunrise with different exposure levels. This is where bracketing comes in handy.
  2. Put them on top of one another with a photo editing program like Photoshop.
  3. Adjust colors, levels, layers and opacities until the final product includes elements from both your darkest and lightest photos.

11. Move Your Horizon Line

The “horizon line” is the line in the sky where the sun is actually rising. Instead of putting it in the center of your photos, something that’s done by every amateur photographer in the world, try putting it at the bottom or the top. This will create unique and visually interesting images that take full advantage of the lessons you’ve already learned with sunrise photography tips.

blue sunrise sky

12. Use a Tripod

The great thing about sunrises is that they’re slow-moving, so tripods aren’t absolutely necessary like with wildlife photography. On the other hand, if you’re bracketing photos or just suffering from unsteady hands, a tripod can make all the difference between blurry photos and sharp ones. Even just pressing the shutter button can cause motion blur.

13. Beautify Your Images After the Fact

This is called post-processing, and it’s a widely-known but little-discussed secret of professional photography. All of those gorgeous viral photos on your social media feed have been put through Photoshop to correct their flaws, enhance their colors and bring out their best features. If you want your pictures to look like the pros, you have to utilize the tools of the pros.

sunrise photographer silhouette

14. Protect Your Eyes

Last but certainly not least, take precautions while shooting sunrise photography to prevent retinal damage and vision loss. Put on sunglasses if you have to look directly into the sky, and make ample use of your camera’s preview screens. These measures may seem boring or time-wasting, but you’ll appreciate them when you don’t go blind in five years!

15. Create Sunbursts

The sunburst effect is frequently mentioned in sunrise photography tips, but it can be a tricky maneuver to pull off. You’ll need to adjust your aperture and angle your camera just so, and depending on the amount of light in your photo, you might be over- or under-exposed for the time period. Don’t be alarmed if you have to take dozens of pictures to get that one perfect sunburst.

dark sunrise photo


Whether you’re a newbie photographer or an experienced shutterbug, these sunrise photography tips can help you capture the glory of a changing horizon. But what do you think? Did we forget any vital tips for sunrise photography, or do you have some other advice to share? Let us know in the comments!

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