A Photo Guide Explains How to Take the Best Sunrise Pics in the World

In Stories
By Sheila Archer

Vacations are the perfect time to get up early and photograph great sunrises. Morning light is magical whether you are visiting Mombasa or Madrid! First, there is the blue light just as the sky begins to lighten. Then, as the sun emerges from the horizon, a golden glow is cast upon surfaces and creates spectacular shadows. It is one of the best times to grab your camera and get out there to create pictures that will always bring back memories of that moment and place. Here are a few tips so that you are prepared.

1. Know where you’re at

It may sound silly but wherever you are, get your coordinates. You’ll want to know which way is east from wherever you’re staying. This is something I learned the hard way in Paris many years ago: I got up, ran out to catch a sunrise and it was not where I expected it to be. Or rather, I was not in the right place! Also consider where and what are you going to photograph. Is it a cityscape? Or is it a landscape? If at all possible, I would suggest you visit the place prior to your early morning shoot. Map out what you deem a photographic spot so that you can focus on that point when you arrive pre-dawn. You can always change your viewpoint as the light comes up and something else catches your eye.

Regarding transportation, if you are in a rural area, make sure you map out exactly how to drive there. Or, if you are doing an urban shoot in a new city and don’t have a car, make sure you know about the bus or train schedule in advance.

2. Know when to go

It’s important to be aware of the exact time of sunrise. This way you can depart well in advance of the sunrise. Try using an online sunrise calculator like ESRL Global’s Solar Calculator. Also, don’t forget to check the weather forecast! There’s no point in getting up early if the fog is so thick, you can’t see where you’re going.

3. Prepare your gear

Get your camera and camera bag ready the night before. Charge up your batteries and pack an extra battery. Make sure your CF or MMC cards have enough storage space. Again, it’s good to carry an extra just in case of a problem. (An extra card has saved me more than once when there has been some kind of malfunction. It is especially important when you are traveling and will not be able to shoot that particular scene again.) If you are doing landscape photography at this hour, plan to bring along a flashlight or some other light source. Also, if you are going to shoot just as the sun comes up, it will be dark and you will need to use a tripod. (As the sun rises there will be enough light to dispense with the tripod.)

4. Be safe

Wherever you go, always consider safety. Just because it’s morning and beautiful, doesn’t mean it is safe. If you are going out by yourself, make sure someone else knows where you are going. Particularly in cities, be aware of who is around you. On the other hand, in rural areas, be aware of wildlife.

5. Heed these photo tips

Finally, here are a couple of quick camera tips for sunrise shooting:

  • Make sure your white balance is on daylight.
  • When the sun breaks the horizon, set your F-stop to 16 to capture the optimum detail.
  • When the sun gets too strong just turn around and shoot in the opposite direction.

Enjoy your adventure!

Sheila Archer, a native Brooklynite, is a passionate photographer specializing in urban/night imagery. Trained at the International Center for Photography, she is also a New York City Licensed Sightseeing Guide who recently served as a Municipal Art Society Docent conducting Grand Central Terminal tours. Find out more about Sheila and the trips she offers on her GuideAdvisor bio page.

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