Photo by Nicholas Parker

While a sunrise or sunset image is the hallmark of any adventure photo album, snapping a beautiful shot of this daily event is more difficult than you might anticipate.

While you’ve probably seen photos in which the setting or rising sun looks massive, most lenses capture our solar system’s central star as a small pinpoint. So, if you want your image to feature a more prominent sun, zoom in or use a lens that is 200mm or larger. But never look directly at the sun through the viewfinder — doing so can severely damage your eyes!

Firstly, plan out your shot. Whether it includes ocean tides, the silhouette of a mountainous peak, or a lone tree, a sunrise/sunset photos needs some kind of visual interest. Often these elements will take the form of a silhouette, which can contribute to the complexity of the image. If you do include an additional element, remember to compose your shot with the most eye-catching subject matter at the intersections according to the Rule of Thirds.

And, experiment with exposure! While it can be tempting to snap away in manual mode, this can result in a blown-out image that doesn’t do justice to the beauty of your surroundings. Instead, set your camera to either aperture or shutter priority mode, and experiment with different f/stops and exposure times. While we’d like to advise particular exposures to be most helpful, these settings really are specific to your location, time, and proximity to the sun. You can get a gorgeous images from various settings, but a good rule of thumb is to start with a faster shutter speed and then slowly decrease until you get an image you love.

Photo by Steve Brock

Utilize your camera’s Auto Exposure Lock function for continuous shooting. This will allow you to focus your camera on a darker part of the image, lock in the exposure values, and then shoot away, ensuring that your photo won’t be blown out.

As always, longer shutter speeds will require a stabilizing agent — the easiest way to steady your camera is by using a tripod or setting your camera on something secure

Don’t forget to plan out your location ahead of time. It can be tempting to rush outside when you see the sky begin to change colors, but scouting out good viewpoints and arriving 30 minutes ahead of time will actually yield the best results and allow you to capture the changing character of the sky. You’ll be amazed by how quickly both light and cloud formation changes over the course of a single sunrise or sunset. Trust us, it’ll be worth setting that early alarm!

Photo by James Udall


  • Never look directly at the sun through your camera’s viewfinder.
  • Find another object or subject matter to include in your image along with the sunrise/sunset.
  • Experiment with shutter speed and aperture priority modes to find the optimal exposure.
  • Utilize a tripod if you plan on shooting  long exposure shots.
  • Choose your locations ahead of time and arrive half an hour before the main event — you’ll be glad you did so!

Header image by Angelo Mendoza