An Early Start Can be a Great Beginning: Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises

How to Shoot Morning's Light-and-Color Show!

by Kerry Drager

One of outdoor photography's most valuable accessories is something most of us already own - an alarm clock. Whether you use the old-fashioned clocks or the alarm on your smartphone, this can be THE single most helpful tool in your entire photography tool box.

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Joshua Tree Sunrise
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises and More!

Dawn photography, in fact, can be a spectacular wake-up call. After all, there's nothing quite so satisfying as starting out the day with some beautiful images!

Among the benefits of getting up and getting out first thing in the morning:

- The wonderful light of "daybreak" - that otherworldly interval between darkness and daylight. Expect scenes of soft light and pastel tones, skies of deep blue or purple, and, at times, downright surreal colors.

- The potentially brilliant sky of sunrise. Shooting tip: For the best exposure, take a meter reading off a middle-tone area of the sky - not the brightest, not the darkest spot - lock in those settings, re-compose your photo, and fire away.

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Cayucos Pier at Dawn
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

- Once the sun comes up, just about any subject will glow in the warm light - landscapes, cityscapes, intimate details, etc.

- With the low-angled sun, expect great opportunities for capturing strong graphic-design elements: i.e., silhouettes and shadows.

- There's still more: early-morning freshness, few people walking into your scene, and plenty of parking (a particular delight if you're in a tourist area). Plus, there are increased chances for water reflections and, depending on the time of year, moody fog.

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Sunrise, Mono Lake, CA
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Plan to Get Up In the Dark to Catch those Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises!

Many daybreak sessions actually begin the day before - with a search for potential subjects. Midday scouting sessions involve previsualization - imagining what a scene might look like in the fine light of dawn.

Of course, it's easier to prepare for sunset, because you can arrive in daylight and then track the sun's progress. It's another story for first-light-of-day sessions, when you must get there early enough to check your surroundings and set up your gear in order to catch the beginning of daybreak. Yes, this means arriving on the scene when it's still dark.

The equipment part of the process should take place the night before, when you pack your gear for the morning shoot. Sure, you can do it in the morning ... but, believe me, it's verrrry easy to leave behind a key piece of gear when you're still half-asleep.

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Old Boat 2
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

In the field, be ready to capture the drama at different times as the conditions and colors constantly change. In the pre-sunrise period, for instance, darkness gradually turns into soft light and beautiful tones. But as the sun clears the horizon, things happen fast, and successful sunrise shooters must operate quickly. That's where your pre-shoot planning really comes into play.

Lastly ...

  • For more examples, don't miss BetterPhoto's "Morning Light Photography and Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises" gallery.


  • About Author Kerry Drager


    Author: Kerry  Drager

    To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.