Sunrises and sunsets are two things I like to photograph for fun. It's usually the latter because sunrise sometimes means getting up reallllllyyy early. I never cease to be amazed by the beauty of them. Below I share five tips on how to get your own great sunrise and sunset photos.
1. Wider is better....but not completely necessary.
Most often, I will shoot sunrises or sunsets at a focal length between 16 and 24mm; those wide focal lengths really help add drama to the shot. But I don't always shoot this wide. Sometimes I don't have a lens with a wide focal length with me. Sometimes the framing of the shot is actually helped by a little length. Either way, it's completely doable to use focal lengths that aren't super wide. The two following photos were taken at 70mm and 35mm, respectively.
2. Use spot metering.
One question I get a lot is how to take a photo at sunrise or sunset and expose the sky correctly (and also get other aspects of the photo in silhouette or near-silhouette). The answer is to change your camera's metering mode to spot metering. Meter just to one side of the sun. Or, if the sun is not currently in the sky, spot meter on the brightest part of the sky. This will leave you with a photo where your sun is the brightest, your sky is dramatic and well exposed, and the rest of your scene is darker.
3. Clouds are your friends.
I know, it sounds weird to say that. If you're going to photograph a sunrise or sunset, you certainly don't want a cloudy day, right? You definitely don't want a day when it's completely overcast. However, any other time when there are clouds in the sky--even more clouds than you might think are a good thing--actually is a good thing for these photographs. The rising or setting sun will reflect off these clouds and create gorgeous reflections and colors, and the clouds overall will add more drama and interest to your photos.
4. In the absence of clouds, add other elements to your frame.
A lot of the time you'll have a perfect cloudless sky, or one that has very few clouds. Of course they're gorgeous but they can also make for sort of boring photos, because it's just a sky with nothing else going on. These are the cases where having other elements in your photo, usually silhouetted, really adds to the photo. Buildings, mountains, telephone poles, towers, trees, birds flying in front of the sun...any of these things can and will add interest to your sunrise or sunset photos.
5. The real magic happens when the sun isn't actually above the horizon.
I've seen sunsets that were so so, but not long after the sun dropped below the horizon, the sky became unbelievably beautiful and colorful. Same with sunrises, except before the sun comes up. There are very fleeting windows for these moments, especially with sunrises, but they are so worth it when you catch the sky on an especially beautiful day.