Tips & Tricks

Seven Tips for Capturing a Sunrise

How to get those perfect sunrise (and sunset!) photos for all of your Picaboo projects.

If you have kids like mine, you are up way before the sun even thinks about waking up. Sure, you may be tired. And the dark makes you want to crawl back into bed.

But use this early morning opportunity to try something new. Grab your camera, your coat, and head out to watch the sun rise!

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Plan ahead. You can check the time for your local sunrise by visiting the Sunrise/Sunset calculator.  Make sure you’re ready to capture the sunrise at least 20 minutes beforehand, so you can get set up. Weather can affect your picture so make sure you check the weather report.

2. Look around. You don’t always have to shoot the sunrise directly. There is some amazing lighting during a sunrise. Look around and see how the light reflects off of a building or, if you’re lucky, the ocean. If you are shooting in a more natural setting, look in the trees and see how the leaves filter the light.

3. Grab a tripod or set your camera on a ledge. The important thing here is that you want the camera to stay still.

4. Use the right settings.  If your camera has the capability, be sure you are not shooting in Auto White Balance. You may miss a lot of the colors that are in a sunrise. Instead, try shooting with a “Cloudy” white balance. This is the white balance setting that I use 95% of the time when shooting outdoors. This way, you will capture more warm tones and really capture a good representation of the sunrise colors.

Hint for Smartphone Users: Often, your best camera is the one you have on you, and for many of us, that is the camera we have on our smartphones.  While these cameras don’t typically have white balance capability, you can still take great photos.  I use either the HDR setting or I underexpose slightly by tapping my finger on the screen and pulling down the slider that appears next to the box.  Then, after I’ve taken the photo, I go into the “Edit” function and do a little post editing.  Usually all I need to do is decrease my highlights and brighten my shadows a bit.  I find a little contrast and color boost (saturation) helps bring out what I’m seeing with my natural eye.

5. Pay Attention to the Rule of Thirds. Keep your photos interesting!  While not a hard and fast rule, a photo will typically be more pleasing if you frame it according to the rule of thirds.  In your mind’s eye, draw an imaginary tic tac toe board on top of the image your are framing. Where possible, place your horizon near either the upper or the lower horizontal line and place your focal point (in this case the end of the visible road) near one of the four circles where the lines intersect as shown:


Of course, rules are meant to be broken! And sometimes it makes sense to put your focal point right in the center of your photo. So play around and see what you like best.

6. Keep Shooting. This is always one of my tips. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Change up your angles and play around with your composition.  The sun and lighting is always changing during a sunrise so make sure you capture it all. When you go back through your pictures when you get home, you will have a ton of options to choose from.

7. Enjoy Yourself!  When I consciously make the effort to take a sunrise picture, I like to go alone. I grab a cup of coffee and head out. There’s something relaxing about the quiet and beauty that you experience when watching a sunrise.


Originally posted January 29, 2012 by Stephanie Glover.  Revised June 16, 2021

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