Seven Sunrise-Landscape Tips—08/08/11
Advice for early-morning landscape photography
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Summer is waning, and so are the warm days and easy opportunities to comfortably get out and make early-morning landscape images. Before it gets too cold, you may want to put these early-morning landscape tips to use for beautiful, and comfortable, sunrise photos.
1. Prepare the night before. The last thing you want to be doing at 4 a.m. is trying to think clearly to determine if you’ve got everything you need. So, the night before your shoot, get everything ready. Don’t just gather your gear, but set appropriate camera settings, format cards, charge batteries, attach tripod quick-release plates…everything. The more you do the night before, the less you’ll struggle with in the predawn light.
2. Scout the day before. It helps to know where you’ll be going when you’re ready to shoot, so scout the location ahead of time. Determine not only where you plan to shoot, but how you’ll get there. Remember, since you need to arrive early, you’ll be traveling in dark. If your travel requires a hike, make sure you know the trail like the back of your hand, and make sure someone knows where you’ll be going.
3. Use your technological advantage. When you’re trying to predetermine a shooting spot, use technology to help determine the exact position of the sunrise, so you can choose the ideal vantage point. Sure, the sun will come up in the eastern sky, but will it appear right over that mountain or behind that big tree? If I shoot from here, will it reflect off the lake, or do I need to move south to get that? The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a great example of a computer program that helps you map sun and moon positions to precisely determine how the light will interact with the landscape.
4. Arrive well before the sun. If the sunrise is at 6:15 a.m., you don’t want to roll up at 6:15. You probably don’t even want to roll up at 6:00 or even 5:45. Because the sun’s glow starts to illuminate the sky well before sunup, arrive well before you think you’ll need to shoot. I suggest a minimum of 45 minutes at your destination to get in position and set up before the light show begins.
5. Bring a flashlight. Remember that whole 5:00 a.m. thing? That means you’ll be setting up in the dark. If you can’t see, you’ll be practically useless. Bring a flashlight, a lantern, a headlamp or whatever illumination you prefer—but be sure to bring something. If you have to wait until the sun comes up to see, you’ll obviously miss your shot.
6. Start shooting well before you think you should. You can take pictures long before the sun has risen. In fact, you should take pictures then because you can get great, soft light and richly colorful skies before the sun crests the horizon and changes the whole dynamic. If you want shots of the sky itself, before sunrise is the perfect opportunity. The time to photograph great light is when it’s right in front of you, and if you wait to shoot until you think the light is perfect, chances are you’ve missed it.
7. Recognize the unique quality of the light. Sunrise usually offers a different kind of “magic hour” than sunset. In many ways, it’s softer, subtler and without the same bright, bold colors that often define dramatic sunsets. That means it’s a great light for soft subjects and more subtle images—sometimes in much the same way you’d work on a cloudy day. In fact, early-morning dew and fog that will eventually burn off as the day heats up make sunrise an inherently different type of magic hour than sunset. Sunrise skies may not always provide a ton of big-sky drama like sunsets, but what the sunrise will provide is a spreading warm glow on subjects to the west, with light getting better and brighter by the minute rather than moving slowly toward total darkness.