World Through The Lens

By Janet Wood

People think Iím mad. Why? Because when sane people are normally tucked up in their nice, warm beds, on cold winter mornings or evenings, Iím usually to be found on some barren, windswept moorland, freezing to death, and all for the sake of a few sunrise pictures. Then why do it? Because when that sun breaks over the horizon and lights up the sky with its brilliance, there is little to compare with its majesty.


Moorland sunset          Tunisian sunset

If youíve ever fancied trying your hand at sunrise/ sunset photography then Iíve put together a few hints and tips that you may find useful.

1. Firstly, if you do decide to have a go at taking a sunrise / sunset picture, then winter is probably the best time to start. Why? Because the nights are long and the days are short, which basically means, you donít have to set off at a too ungodly hour. In England, during December and January a 6 am start is usually good enough for sunrise, as long as you donít travel too far, whilst sunset can start as early as 3.30 pm.

2. Remember to check out the morning / evening sky the day before in order to determine the best place to photograph your sunset picture from.

3. Also, itís no use deciding on your location only to find, when you get there, that your sunset picture is obstructed by buildings, electricity pylons etc. Because, unless you actually want to include such objects in your shots, they could spoil what would have been a beautiful picture. So visit the intended site prior to your shoot. As a general rule of thumb, the higher your position, the better your chances are of an unobstructed view.

4. Another problem with taking a sunset picture is accessibility. Many a time I have wanted to photograph a particular building with either the sun rising or setting behind it, but couldnít because I could never get into the right position. Again check it out beforehand, remembering that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

City centre

5. In order to log suitable locations for sunset pictures I always carry a notebook with me in the car and jot down possible sites that I see on my journeys, remembering to include both the month and time of day. I make particular use of this during other dawn shoots; after all, it makes sense to utilize your time efficiently, especially if youíre getting up at four in the morning, or arriving at 10 in the evening!

6. Weather forecasting suddenly becomes of major importance to the Ďsunset photographerí. Clear days/nights, promise colorful sunrises / sunsets, but if you can get broken cloud as well, you are on a sure winner.

Nile sunrise    Nile sunset
Portrait or Landscape orientation can work equally well

7. Remember a beautiful sunset can go down as fast as a cold drink on a summerís day. The sky can be filled with magnificent shades of pink, orange and mauves one minute and gone the next. So be prepared to act fast if you want that perfect sunset picture.

8. To take sunrise or sunset pictures, preferably you should have the following minimum photographic equipment:
  • A decent camera
  • A tripod, or steady place to rest your camera

  • PLUS:
  • Some photography experience - though time will provide this.
  • A keen eye for a picture - again practice will improve this.
  • A certain amount of luck.
  • And not least of all, a lot of patience!

9. Problems you will invariable encounter include:
  • Artificial lights - the longer the exposure the greater their diffusion will ruin your photograph.
  • Traffic headlights. (Though these can enhance a shot, for example Ė their motion can produce long streams of attractive colourful light.)
  • Strong/gusting winds that rock your tripod and ruin your shot. (Wrong kind of motion!)
  • Extreme temperatures that affect your equipment, and you!
  • And the general public, who love to stand directly in front of whatever it is you are trying to photograph.

cotton mills UK        african sunset

10. Regarding film I use 25, 64 or a maximum of 100ASA slide film (Fuji or Kodak) But if you are just starting out, and not sure of your photographic skills, I would recommend using cheaper negative film until youíre happy with the results.

11. Once youíre out there, in the field, (so to speak) take plenty of sunrise / sunset pictures; never be satisfied with only a few shots. Film, especially negative, it is relatively cheap to buy and definitely cheaper than having to revisit a place, especially if you are on holiday! Plus a beautiful sunset can never be conjured up at your demand, nor are any two ever the same. So snap away!

Nile sunset Nile sunrise
Take many pictures throughout the sunset / sunrise for different color effects.

12. I would suggest when photographing that you:
  • Use a good depth of field to ensure sharpness throughout the photograph.
  • Bracket each shot. By this I mean, expose using your light meter reading (either internal or external) then increase and decrease your exposure by 1/2 stop. By doing so, the better your chances of capturing a perfect picture.
  • Try different techniques. For example; different filters, angles, lenses.
  • You also have to decide where to put the horizon. Generally speaking avoid the middle of the picture, as this has the effect of cutting your picture in two, sky and land, dragging the viewers eye away from your sunset picture. Instead, place it low to create a sense of spaciousness and distance, or remove it completely from view. One exception to this general rule is the tip given below when an object is to be framed within the shot.
  • One way to add another dimension to your sunset pictures is to frame silhouetted object(s) in your shot. The deep black will sit stark against the multi-coloured sky. Choose sharp, well-defined, unusual or intriguing shapes. To make it black, make sure your take a light meter reading for the sky and not the object.

  • Note not all the examples here were taken at the end of sunset, or the beginning of sunrise, when generally speaking the colours are at their deepest. Some were taken at early dusk and late dawn when pastel shades come into play; e.g. Nile cruise boat above. Many professional photographers enjoy taking landscape pictures at these times.


Try eliminating any land reference if the sky is dramatic enough. Colours usually intensify at different times during the sunset and after a while you begin to get a feel for it.

13. Donít always go for the obvious shot, look around, frame something unusual in your camera, or try changing your perspective. Remember ĎBeautifulí doesnít always photograph well; itís how you treat the subject that counts.

Luxor          Nile cruise boat
MOORED UP            SUNSET TAKE OFF                LAST RAYS    

Hope I havenít put you off - enjoy your excursions.

The article is the property of the copyright holder, Mike and Janet Wood 2000. All rights reserved. And must be treated as any other copyrighted material. It must not be copied, altered, used for profit, sold in any way. You can download a copy for personal use, not commercial use, e.g. for research, reference etc, on the condition that all copyright notices and author accreditation remains intact. The article MUST NOT be made available from any other website, (viewing or download) computer server or online service. If you wish to use this article in anyway other than for personal use

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Stock photography by Janet Wood at Alamy
Ancient Egypt Photos by Janet Wood at Alamy
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