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Tipsheet: Capturing sunrise

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  January 10, 2011 07:36 PM

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By Charles MacPherson
The Amazing Image, Scituate

Sunrise is one of my favorite things to shoot. Even a lousy sunrise is still pretty darn good!

Here are a few tips for your next attempt at capturing the color and drama of a sunrise shoot:

1. Have a subject. A pretty sky is a lot more interesting if there's a subject in the frame. Without it, it's just a pretty sky.

2. Bring your tripod! Without it, you run a very large risk of unintentional blur from camera shake, especially in the early parts of the event. It's almost unavoidable, and you'll kick yourself for blowing those shots!

3. Arrive EARLY. The published time of sunrise is the moment that the disk of the sun breaks the horizon. By that time, you've already missed most of the color. And when the sun makes the transition from below the horizon to above it, the quality of the light goes from very soft to very hard in an instant.

My rule is to arrive 45 minutes BEFORE sunrise. The image below was shot at 5:47 a.m. - yikes!

Scituate Harbor Sunrise
Scituate Harbor Sunrise
Canon 40D, Canon EF-S 17-85mm @ 57mm. ISO 500, f7.1, 1/160th sec.

4. Dress for the event. That means warm clothing in the winter, bug spray in the summer. By being prepared, you can concentrate on your photography - not on swatting mosquitoes or chipping the frost from your eyebrows.

5. Bracket your exposures like mad. Bracketing will help you to bring out all of the available color, without going into post-processing to "create" it - something some of us still try to avoid.

6. Bring a flashlight, preferably one with a "dim" setting or red light so you won't kill your night vision while it's still dark. It's frustrating fumbling around for things in your camera bag, or trying to set your camera's controls in the dark!

Scituate Harbor Sunrise
Scituate Harbor Sunrise
Canon 40D, Sigma 70-200 f 2.8 @ 191mm. ISO 500, f7.1, 1/400th sec.

7. Use different focal lengths - or compose with your feet. Try for different compositions of the same subject. The two sunrise shots above are of the lighthouse and harbor in my hometown. But due to differences in both focal length and exposure, each has a dramatically different look.

8. Use reflections to your advantage. If the sun is reflecting off something, consider making that part of your subject. Whether it's a building or an ocean, the reflection really increases the amount of color in your image.

So there are 8 quick tips for taking great sunrise shots. Here's a bonus tip - the 9th and most important: Get yourself out of bed and do it - and have fun!

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