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Camera Settings for a Sunrise Photo

Start shooting into the sun when it peeks above the horizon. When you photograph a landscape at sunrise, the quality of the light and the colors changes almost by the second. Shoot lots of frames and shoot them from different vantage points.

Use the rules of composition and pay careful attention to where you place the horizon line. Don’t get so carried away with the beauty of the sunrise that you forget that your goal is to capture compelling photographs of the sunrise — photos that people will spend some time viewing.

If you photograph a sunrise and shoot directly into the sun, your camera will try to outfox your best efforts. Be alert and stay one step ahead of your camera. Getting a great photograph of the sunrise requires the proper focal length, shooting mode, and more. The following list will get you pointed in the right direction:

  • Focal length: When you’re photographing a beautiful landscape with a rising sun, choose a wide-angle focal length between 24mm and 35mm. The sun will be relatively small in the image, but you’ll capture the beauty of the landscape and any clouds that are in the scene. In addition, the camera won’t have to compensate for quite as wide a dynamic range because the sun is a tiny pinpoint of light.

  • ISO: Choose the lowest possible ISO setting for the available ambient light. This ensures a noise-free image. If you have to increase the ISO setting, don’t exceed ISO 400, if your camera sensor is not full frame or ISO 800, if your camera has a full-frame sensor.

  • Shooting mode: Use aperture priority mode when you photograph a sunrise with a beautiful landscape. This gives you complete control over the depth of field.

  • Aperture: Choose the smallest possible aperture that yields a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second. If your lens has image stabilization, you can get by with a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second, or perhaps 1/15 of a second if you have a very steady hand.

    You should use an aperture with an f-stop value of f/11 or higher. When you dial in a higher f-stop value, you get a smaller aperture and a greater depth of field. If you shoot at the largest recommended aperture and your shutter speed dips too low, the alternative is to increase the ISO setting.

    Don’t increase the ISO setting beyond 400, or 800 if you have a camera with a full-frame sensor, especially if the scene has lots of shadow areas.

  • Tripod: A tripod is optional but ensures that you get a sharper image. You’ll also need a tripod if you’re photographing the scenery before the sun rises.

  • Exposure compensation: When you photograph a sunrise, your camera will think the scene needs to be brighter and will crank up the exposure. The sun may be bright, but you also get dark areas in your scene.

    To keep one step ahead of your camera, review your photos as your photo shoot progresses. If the image on your LCD monitor looks brighter than the scene before you, use exposure compensation to decrease the exposure.

  • Reverse graduated neutral density filter: This filter is darkest at the middle and gradually becomes clear at the top. This filter balances the bright light of the sun with the shadows, bringing the dynamic range into something your digital camera can manage.

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