Recommended Settings for Correct Sunrise and Sunset Photography

After the article How to Photograph Spectacular Sunrises and Sunsets, today’s article is a complementary article that answers a question raised by many readers: “What settings should I use to shoot sunrises and sunsets?”

For more information on how to photograph landscapes, be sure to read this article.

Recommended settings for correct sunrise and sunset photography

First of all, please do not be intimidated by the “apparent” complexity of this photographic subject. As I told you in the previous article, photographing direct sunlight may seem complicated, but it’s not that bad. If you control the manual mode minimally and spend a little time fiddling and experimenting with the settings, you will find the “point” yourself. Now, if you have never tried to photograph a sunrise or sunset before, here are some manual settings that you can use as a first approach to this type of photography.


Let’s go there:

  • Mode: Manual.
  • Opening: Relatively small (high f/value). As it is a landscape, we are interested in the entire frame being well focused. This is achieved by closing the diaphragm through a more or less high f/ value. I would start with f/16.
  • Beware, a small aperture like f/16 has a small drawback: it doesn’t let in much light. If you left it like that you would get a dark photo, but that’s okay, we leave it like that, at f/16, and we’ll fix that in the next step.
  • Shutter Speed: To solve the previous point we are here almost forced to select a shutter speed as slow as possible. A slow shutter speed will let in a sufficient amount of light, and will compensate for the narrowness of the aperture. A shutter speed of 1/10 can be a good starting point. It’s slow enough to give the camera time to capture the amount of light needed.
  • But again, we have a small problem: shooting at such slow shutter speeds will cause our hand to shake during the shot, thus resulting in a blurred photo. How do we fix it? Surely you already imagine it 😉
  • Tripod: The use of a tripod in sunrise and sunset photography is essential. Well, that’s what I said in the previous point, when using a slow shutter speed, we end up moving our hand (it doesn’t matter if you hold your breath, you move) which results in a blurred photo. To avoid this, nothing better than a good tripod that will provide us with all the necessary stability.
  • Image Stabilizer: Some cameras/lenses are equipped with a special image stabilizer function. If you use a tripod, disable it. If you can’t use a tripod for whatever reason, activate the image stabilizer. (More on image stabilizers here.)
  • Flash: Disabled. It is useless.
  • Approach: Automatic. Without a dynamic scene or too many moving objects, your camera’s autofocus should initially be able to focus on the entire landscape.
  • White Balance: Use the “Cloudy” or “Shadow” white balance, they are the ones that will give you the best results. More on White Balance here.
Protagonist Spikes

Although these settings will work for most of the times when you are going to photograph sunrises or sunsets, do not follow them blindly please. Remember that they are a small support so that you can launch yourself to discover this type of photography, but from there you yourself will explore and experiment with the possibilities that your camera and the landscape offer you.

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