Tips on Early Morning Photography

Tips on Early Morning Photography


A Guest Post by Simon Davidson.

As all photographers know, there are two times of day when the light is most ideal for capturing breathtaking images, sunrise and sunset. The reason being is because at these times the angle between the sun and the earth’s surface is small which allows for the sunlight to flow over the landscape in a way that intensifies the colours of nature and also creates spectacular shadows. All in all, it is a photographers dream land!

Planning For Your Early Morning Shoot:

Plan Your Sunrise Shoot.jpg

Below are a couple of pointers that will help you effectively plan for your upcoming sunrise shoot so that you don’t miss that perfect shot. (NB: these steps should all be done the day before you plan on shooting the sunrise)

  • Check your local weather forecast so you know what to expect, and also be sure to know what time the sunrise is expected to be.
  • Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged, and I also suggest you have a spare fully charged battery in your bag as well.
  • Go through your camera bag and ensure that you have all the equipment you need. Camera body, lenses, tripod, lens hoods, filters etc…
  • Ensure you know how you are going to get to your shooting location; by car, bicycle, on foot, by boat, hot air balloon; and make sure they are fired up and ready to go.
  • Set your alarm so that you have sufficient time to get to your shooting location.

But the most important tip of all is to WAKE UP when your alarm goes off!

Know Your Shooting Location:

Know Your Shooting Location.jpg

This is a very important point and is one that many people often overlook. Knowing the location that you will be shooting in is just as important as bringing your camera on a shoot. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation (I admit, I have fallen victim to this myself) where you are frantically running around trying to find the best location to start shooting.
All you need to do is just spend about 20 minutes to half an hour a day or two before you plan on shooting the sunrise, have a look around the location so that you can get a good idea of the prime spots to photograph which will save you the pain of missing that ideal photo.

Enjoy Yourself:

Be Sure To Enjoy Yourself.jpg

You may be a professional photographer, or someone working their way up to that level, or maybe even just a hobbyist photographer, but no matter what level you’re at or what kind of photography you are doing I truly believe that the most important thing is that you enjoy yourself because at the end of the day that is most likely one of the reasons you took up photography in the first place.

So make sure to plan your shoot in advance, know the location you’ll be shooting and ENJOY IT!

Photographing at sunrise requires a little bit of planning and the ability to wake up to your alarm clock at 5:00am… In this video you will get an inside look at a sunrise shoot which takes place on the Knysna Lagoon in Southern Africa.

See more of Simon Davidson’s Photography at

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Some Older Comments

  • Sparda January 10, 2012 01:21 pm

    Is it the same person?

  • Lorea January 9, 2012 05:55 am

    Hello, I was going to visit Simons site but noticed its pretty much inactive, same goes for the flickr page. I also read an unfortunate article about a person with the same name. Is this young man still alive?

  • Musik Mosiah October 9, 2011 04:11 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I have never tried to take a photograph early. So much to learn. Well I must say that I am a beginner at taking photos. I must say that I have learnt a lot form this site. Thank you!

  • jacob April 10, 2010 01:47 pm

    biggest tip i can give that guy in the video and everyone else is wear your camera strap, i mean u got an expensive camera and your standing over water

  • andibl February 1, 2010 01:25 am

    Personally, I prefer sunsets, not only because sunrise is soo early but also because I really love sunset colors. Here is one of my sunset shots to explain why I just love the colors:

  • Stephanie Mitchell January 8, 2010 03:58 pm

    I let my meter do the work for me, but I have to trick it a bit. Most cameras will lock exposure and focus when you half-press the shutter, letting you re-compose the picture before the actual exposure. If I want to feature detail in the landscape or higher clouds I meter on that part of the image, then compose and expose. If the actual colours of the sunlit clouds are the main subject, I'll often meter directly on them. if the sun is actually up and in the frame, I always meter away from it.

    Sunrises don't move particularly fast, so you usually have a chance to preview your shot and make adjustments. If there is a moving subject involved, take test exposures beforehand if possible.

  • Dwf January 8, 2010 01:13 am

    As a beginner, I find it difficult to get the correct exposures or selecting the correct aperture - shutter speed settings. Any tips on where to start?

  • FotoHijinx January 4, 2010 01:28 pm

    Gawd Simon!!
    Watch out for the Crocs and Hippos!! heehee

    Great video and tut!


  • Maggie Sbarcea-Ferrett January 3, 2010 08:00 am

    Hey, trouble with 5am? The sun rises in winter too, you know...depending on your part of the world at 8 or 9am! And a sunrise over a beautiful snowy landscape, or cold winter mists rising off the water....

  • Simon January 1, 2010 07:31 pm

    Thank you all of your for you comments! I am glad that my article was of some use to most of you and I will do my best to share my photography experiences, tips and techniques... and learning in the process.

    I wish all of you a Happy New Year and keep shooting! :)

  • kaitlin January 1, 2010 08:28 am

    thank you so much for the tips and info. i am 15 years old but want to start early. i always have loved photography but could never get my hands on a head start untill my stepdad got a connection through his sister. i am now going to use these tips to push me forward and help me learn better and more about my dream.

  • ArkyMark January 1, 2010 03:45 am

    @ Ian Worthington

    Hey, thanks for that link to The Photographer's Ephemeris (above) - that is really one cool app! I've only played with it for a few minutes but I love it already!

    Ya'll check this one out - and thanks again for sharing another Cool Tool for my Toybox!

  • madhulika December 31, 2009 11:37 pm

    I have to photograph some items indoors. What should I keep in mind so that I get good pictures?

  • Wiley Sanders December 31, 2009 11:25 pm

    Thank you for the article. It is much appreciated. I understand what Chelsea said about the Southern Oregon Coast. I live there as well. Though I feel there are many places we can go to gain early morning shots. That is my favorite time of the day. I enjoy being on water as the sun rises. The reflections and shadows created as was mentioned are never repeated. With t he changing angle of the sun and the changing landscape each year, we never see the same sunrise twice.[eimg url='' title='?action=view&current=Lonemoringtree.jpg&newest=1']

  • John McCulloch December 31, 2009 04:00 pm

    Funny that I opened this article up this afternoon, I went out this morning to do my shoot. You can read about my efforts at;

  • KEDAR NAIK December 31, 2009 02:39 pm

    this web site is so grate for me because of easy to learn and advaaaance knowledge of photography

  • Richard December 31, 2009 02:29 pm

    What shutter speed did people use and aperture?

  • starrpoint December 31, 2009 01:27 pm

    what I really enjoy about taking photos at these times is the colors, which are like none at any other time of the day.

  • Stephanie Mitchell December 31, 2009 12:59 pm

    One tip I haven't seen mentioned is to turn your auto white balance OFF! If your camera offers a selection of lighting options, try daylight or shadow settings which will enhance the oranges and reds in your pictures without the camera trying to force them to average grey.

    Conversely, if you're shooting a really cold, icy winter sunrise, try the tungsten settings to give an intense, surreal blue cast to the shot.

    For the most flexibility and comfort, shoot in RAW and then use the image processing software that came with your camera to play with these settings in the warmth of your own home. Add hot chocolate and Bailey's to taste :-)

  • Richard December 31, 2009 12:50 pm

    Very good article...
    However, sometimes what we have planned is not working for some reason inevitable... Or things change too quick....
    So, the only thing we can do is we have to react quickly, and for that we have to understand our gear, read the situation quickly...

    This photo was taken in the morning right after I landed in Halmahera of Indonesia. While everybody must walk quickly for the next transportation to final destination. I used pocket camera. Hope you all like it

    Merry X mas n Happy New Year!![eimg url='' title='37#photo=6']

  • B P Maiti December 31, 2009 12:39 pm

    Good article.Also it a warning call to those prospective photographers who practise instant shoots and expect excellent results.

  • Ian Worthington December 31, 2009 11:18 am

    Check out The Photographer's Ephemeris at for a very classy free tool to map sunrise/set.


  • shanelle lee December 31, 2009 11:11 am

    This was a really helpful article. It was full of very useful advice not to mention killer shots. Thanks so much and I will be taking your advice and trying to a capture a good shot during these times of the day. Thanks again! Happy New Year. Shanelle Lee

  • Vikram December 31, 2009 08:33 am


    Thanks for your time and explanation. I understood how you do it. Now let me get out of my house and give it a try. It is midnight where I am right now, so it is a good time to play with the night settings in Stellarium.


  • ArkyMark December 31, 2009 05:46 am


    No - I didn't create my own 360-pano to plug-into Stellarium, though I understand you can do that! (See their website...) I just use a compass and maybe my GPS receiver to figure out how my surroundings correspond with what Stellarium shows me. The "Landscapes" that Stellarium has aren't important and can even be turned off - though I keep that grassy-fields one (Guéreins) on because it provides a nice, even horizon that's natural-looking, and even very close to what I see here at my house anyway. Here's how I use it...

    In Stellarium, press F6 to bring up the Location Window (or it's the top item in the toolbar that pops up along the left side of the main window). From this window, you'll see where you can enter your Lon/Lat coordinates and Altitude (if known). Likewise, you can pick by clicking on the World Map above the Current Location Info - but it can be real tricky to choose some places. I managed to land it on "Hot Springs, Arkansas USA" (which is where I live), but it's much better to enter the actual coordinates of your location if you know them. Of course, a GPS is best for this, but also Google Earth and other mapping programs will usually give you Lon/Lat info for wherever you're pointing at. The “dead tree” was just an example, but let’s say I do have one in my backyard and I have Stellarium set for my Lon/Lat. The first thing to do is get my bearings – so I’ll stand where I want to photograph the tree from and check a compass or GPS and note where the Cardinal Points are (N, S, E, W). Stellarium will then show you where all the heavenly bodies are (were, will be) according to those Cardinal Points from the Lon/Lat coordinates you gave it.

    So if you know the full-moon will rise tonight, but there’s a big horizon in front of you … exactly where is it going to come up? Stellarium will show you that when you “run the clock forward” and actually watch the Moon rise – and then you’ll see where it rises in relation to the Cardinal Points (as well as what time it will be in what place as it moves). From there I’m afraid you have to look at your own compass – then your own horizon – and kind of use your imagination. But hey – it works! I’ve found it to be spot-on accurate – though I wish I could display more than the four points. (I’d prefer 10-degree markings myself. I’ll have to look and see if there’s some way to do that.)

    Remember that while the exact location within feet is not really important – if you change your location to one a few blocks away the Moon is still going to rise at relatively the same time/place – but your viewing angle for framing that rising Moon against a dead tree or anything else is something Stellarium can’t help you with – but it’s great at showing you when and where the stars of the show will make their appearance! Best of luck with it!

  • Vikram December 31, 2009 03:16 am


    Thanks for the tips about Stellarium. I downloaded and used it and it is a very impressive. What I didnt understand was your statement that we could determine whether the moon would rise near the dead tree. How were you able to get alternate landscapes into the program? Did you go about creating a circular panaroma for every place that you wanted and uploaded it into the program to determine it?

  • Harry December 30, 2009 10:04 am

    Perfect timing is essential because the light is continually changing. Yesterday I took my dog for a pre-sunrise run but didn't bring my dSLR because of the cold weather. Fortunately, I had my old point-and-shoot Canon. In the attached photo, I tried to capture the light gradient of sky and the silhouette of the oak tree. I took perhaps 50 photos to get this one.[eimg link='' title='Oak_BW 11-23-2005 7-43-00 PM 1536x2048' url='']

  • Zack Jones December 30, 2009 07:21 am

    I love shooting sunrise shots, so much so that if I could only shoot one thing for the rest of my life that's what it would be. A couple of tips I've picked up along the way:

    1 - Be aware of your surroundings. This probably isn't too much of a problem if you're out at some remote location; however, ocean side at Myrtle Beach is another story. I was too into shooting photos and didn't notice the drunk guy that wandered up behind me until he spoke. Scared the crap out of me.

    2 - Bring a friend or loved one. I learned this one after the episode above. Also take a moment to enjoy the view with that friend or loved one. Here's a sample of one such photo. It was taken in June 2009.

    [eimg link='' title='17 Years Ago' url='']

  • Jason Collin Photography December 30, 2009 06:06 am

    I was planning to photograph the sunrise on Christmas morning, but the weather forecast was saying overcast and possibly rain, so I shelved the idea only to wake up just after sunrise to see just enough orange light peaking through to have made a good shot. I rushed out, but by then it was way past the ideal time to shoot. So be careful trusting your weatherman! At least if you are in SW Florida.

    @Laura, very nice work. I like the blue tones.

    This is a sunrise taken from my backyard:

    [eimg link='' title='The first sunrise of my new career' url='']

  • Robin December 30, 2009 04:33 am

    On vacation in Maine once I happened to get up at 5am so I went out to the dock and sat with the camera waiting for the sun to rise. It was amazing and the shots followed.

  • Jonathon Jenkins December 30, 2009 01:22 am

    I also use an iphone app called MAgicHour that will give me the sunries/sunset and twilight times at a location. That helps me get to where I need to be and setup well before there's visible light that I can see. Here's pne of my favorite shots that I got after getting up, out and setup using MagicHour.[eimg url='' title='5646648_q3Y3T#355442346_4vzFd']

  • Iris December 30, 2009 01:09 am

    Very cool shots - fun video too. One of these days I will get up for a sunrise....

  • Hans December 29, 2009 10:50 pm

    I agree with this entirely.
    The eraly bird catches the worm. :-)

    [eimg link='' title='Sunrise over Groningen (HDR)' url='']

  • Adi Aprilla December 29, 2009 10:06 pm

    Woww, nice tips,,,i love it. I will try to experiment this new year...

  • Simon December 29, 2009 07:08 pm

    Thanks everyone for their comments... this is my first quest post on DPS website but I'm hoping it is the start of many more! Keep shooting :)

  • Sparda79 December 29, 2009 03:00 pm

    A direct link to my sunrise shots:-

  • Sparda79 December 29, 2009 02:56 pm

    When you're looking for the location, don't forget to identify the proper direction of the sunrise. Get yourself a compass. :)

    This is my 1st sunrise shots.
    [eimg link='' title='Penang Sunrise 003' url='']

    There's more at my photoblog =>

  • Laura December 29, 2009 02:11 pm

    [eimg url='' title='080816_Alaska_9_Edit2.jpg']
    I find that it is important to get to your site and be set up well before the sun even begins to illuminate the sky. This picture was taken at 3:40 in the morning as I was driving through alaska. Another advantage to a very early morning is usually very calm water and perfect mirror reflectons.
    Laura at Brilliant World Photography

  • Laura December 29, 2009 02:02 pm

    I even find that it can be very important to arive to your desitnation and be set up well before the sun even starts to illuminate the sky. This shot was taken at 3:40 in the morning as I was driving through Alaska. Lakes and water very early in the morning often is a perfect mirror reflection at a early hour.

  • Chung Bey Luen December 29, 2009 11:33 am

    Great tips! In Singapore, we don't have great nature such as mountains to take awesome sunrise photo. I'm planning to go overseas for awesome sunrise shots.

  • Juan December 29, 2009 08:37 am

    Thanks. That flash thing you did really adds to the photos, and so easily. Besides you have a really nice spot down there, and in the outskirts of a city. Thanks for sharing.

  • Fabi Fliervoet December 29, 2009 05:38 am

    Fun video.. love the music and mood as well. Beautiful place as well, makes me miss home a lot hehehe.

  • Chelsea(CLR Photography) December 29, 2009 04:53 am

    great tip. the only place where i can get good sunrise and sunset is the beach. beacuse im surrounded by mountians. southern oregon. were in a bowl

  • ArkyMark December 29, 2009 03:02 am

    Here’s a tip for photographing the sunrise/sunset as well as the Moon and other astronomical bodies that’s a little on the geeky-side, but it’s just another example of how modern technology can help you in many little ways…

    Last summer there were some big storms moving in from the West that were due to arrive around sundown, and I got the idea that I wanted to shoot these incoming storms from across a big lake facing into the sunset. The lake I had in mind is HUGE, full of islands, and surrounded by mountains – so picking the right spot to get a good “long” view into the sunset was tricky, as I wouldn’t have much time to drive around and pick different spots … besides, where exactly IS the sun going to go down today … behind that mountain, or that one? Well it just so happens that I picked what may have been the best spot on the lake that evening, and I used Google Earth to help me!

    Google Earth can also show how the “light lays on the land” at different times of the day, and by watching how the light and shadows fall and fill-in different areas can help you choose a location to be at beforehand. I could go on and on about how many times and how many ways I’ve used Google Earth to help me in my photography, and how it gives me a great idea of what to expect before I get there – but for figuring-out where the various Heavenly Bodies will be at what time, you need Stellarium

    Stellarium is a FREE (Open Source) astronomy program available for most platforms. You set it up with your longitude/latitude coordinates (which you enter directly or pick from a world-map to get close-enough), and then it will show you not only where every astronomical body is at that moment, but also where they all were or will be at any given moment in time. You can run the clockwork of the sky backward and forward like a movie – and this in turn will show you exactly where and when the sun and moon will rise and set for any given location on any given date! So … will the Full Moon ever rise behind that spooky old dead tree in the back yard? With a program like Stellarium you can find out not only if but exactly when!

    These two programs on my laptop along with my hand-held GPS receiver have become almost indispensable to me when I'm out to photograph locations I haven't visited before - and even those I have.

  • David December 29, 2009 01:40 am

    Another few things that I would reccomend:

    1. Have a look at the sky just before you go to bed or start making your final preparations. If there are very few or no clouds, then the chances are that the morning will be even colder, as cloud cover can trap in the heat from the day before.

    2. Take a thermos of tea of coffee. Quite often I've been faced with an unspectacular or nonexistent sunrise (in spite of all the predictions I could make), however it can still be nice just to sit and watch the sun rise over a landscape with a nice hot cup of whatever.

  • Ron Gibson December 29, 2009 01:31 am

    Good tips. I'm never a sunrise shooter. If that alarm went off at 5AM it would never go off again! But sunset shooting- no problem.

    I'd also mention being clothing appropriate. The drastic temperature changes which occur first thing in the morning and last thing at night- wear several layers and bring thin gloves. And if you are shooting models make sure you have something that they can wrap in between sets or while repositioning. Cold and frustrated models don't make happy photos. If you happen to be the sunrise shooter don't forget about dew, it can be an issue so bring along something to lay on the ground if you need to put your gear down.

    I would also note that if you are shooting with other people- they also must be on your schedule, which is why I could never bother with a sunrise shoot. I would be the only person there.

    But good post. I envy your morning 'shooting ability'.

  • nate December 29, 2009 01:25 am

    Awesome. I just went out this weekend and did this with some of your other sunrise tips.