I frequently get asked about the best way to photograph sunrise/sunset shots. I’ll give an overarching brief in this post and deal with the detail in later posts.Modern camera devices from phones to tablets can take exceptional photos compared with 10-15 years ago. However, to get the best of a sunrise/sunset, you really need a camera that allows you to override the automatic settings. The main reason for this is the camera’s light detection abilities get confused, resulting in either an underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (too bright) shot. Cameras struggle with capturing shots with really dark parts and really light parts, called the dynamic range, this is why decent wedding photographers cost a fortune – groom in a dark suit, bride in a white dress and varying light sources – you get the idea. Planning is important as there is nothing worse than turning up at a location and having to quickly make the best of it. I did this with one of my Northumberland shots which needed high tide, unfortunately the app I was using didn’t compensate for BST so it was an hour out!
1) Think of the location you want to be at and use https://www.photoephemeris.com/, which is free on your PC or you can pay for the app. This site allows you to go the location on any given date and see the direction of the sunrise/sunset. It varies quite a lot through the year so if you want a bang on shot, this site is vital.
2) Check the weather. You need to check this the night before as late as you can make it. It’s also worth checking the cloud cover. It isn’t an exact science so don’t get annoyed if the weather ruins everything on the day. Ideally you need clouds, a cloudless sky will not provide much definition in the shot. High level clouds are the ideal particularly with pre-dawn shots. This gives the pinkish clouds.
3) If it is a shot over the sea, you need to check the tide tables, both for a health and safety point of view but also to make sure there is something in the foreground. Have a look at Martin Steele Photography, his Bamburgh photos show some good examples. In essence, photographs are better with something in the foreground to give that element of depth.
4) Try to resist taking shots with the horizon right in the centre of the shot. You may have heard of the rule of thirds, most pro shots are taken with two thirds foreground, one third background. It can be difficult to shake the habit of half sky, half land shots but it makes for a better shot.
5) Check the sunrise times and plan accordingly. I always add half and hour onto the journey time to give me plenty of time. Also, don’t forget it will be cold until the sun hits. You may spent 30 minutes standing still.
6) Have a look for any shots of the same place from other photographers.
7) Finally, make sure your batteries are charged and you take all the equipment with you.