Stephen Studd Photography

Travel Gardens Plants

Photographing pre-sunrise & post sunset


It always amazes me when on travel and landscape photography shoots how people react to photographing a sunrise or sunset. At popular locations near these times the place can be really busy with excitable people. The main event happens and as soon as the last slither of the sun sets or first slither of the sun rising, the place becomes quiet and deserted as most people will have left rather quickly.

The after show is where the party is at for me. Once the sun has set, wait and watch the skies and the bounced around atmospheric light play on the landscape. A stillness seems to reappear that hasn`t been felt since dawn. This twilight can last for a while so patience is needed, a good tripod as exposures will be long and it is important to move your camera to manual focus.

Germany, Fussen, Alps reflected in Lake Forggensee, dawn

The shot above was taken about half an hour after sunset in Germany with the Alps in the background at pretty much my default  ISO of 100, when using my tripod.  Aperture in this case was f11 with exposure @4 seconds and lens 35mm. I also used a 0.3 ND grad filter to bring the sky and lake together exposure wise. (In this case a 0.3 as sky and foreground were pretty well matched as the sun had set half an hour earlier)

There is also a pre-show event the time between night and sunrise. This one usually has far less attendees and has its own light and colours in the sky and play on the landscape and is generally much stiller and quieter.

digital travel photography holidays vacations tours to Burma myanmar hosted by Stephen Studd, Bagan temples

Myanmar (Burma): Bagan – sunrise  ISO 100  f20 @ 16sec  ND 0.6 (2 stop) graduated filter

Both need the same equipment and patience to photograph but they are equally a joy to photograph (though on cold mornings the pre-sunrise shoot can be tough to get up for!) The main pleasure at these times of day for me is in the sky lottery, what colours are going to be produced? how long will it last? is it going to completely cloud over? When the conditions all come together a joy fills the heart and you know instinctively that you have the shot and walk away with a spring in your step.

You will need a torch, to get you to your location pre sunrise or away post sunset, it also helps you with your camera dials in low level light conditions. A tripod and shutter release cable are needed and I always use mirror lock on my camera as exposures can be long and you don’t want camera shake. I use the cameras spirit level which helps me get those horizons straight. If you do use autofocus, move it to manual, as autofocus struggles to work in the darker conditions, I always shoot in RAW mode too.

Depending on where you are photographing on the planet determines the length of the after or pre show party. In the tropics you generally only get a maximum of half an hour pre sunrise or after sunset. The point from basically photographing in the dark as the shot below to sunrise daylight happens in about 15 minutes, so you have to be ready and quick to react to the fast changing light.

digital travel photography holidays tours to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Marrakech and Gower Wales hosted by Stephen Studd photographer myanmar hosted by Stephen Studd

Cambodia: Angkor Wat sunrise. ISO 100 – f8 @ 30sec

I’m often asked whether I prefer sunrises or sunsets, I much prefer sunrises as the lazy photographers are not out of bed and it is always stiller, calmer, more peaceful and accompanied by the sound of birds waking up and filling the air with song. Which do you prefer?

Go out and enjoy these spectacular times of day, you will usually have them to yourself, they still the mind and fill the soul with joy.

I run travel and landscape photography holidays and tours in Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and the USA.

I also run landscape photography workshops and weekends in the Gower, Wales and Bluebell woods photography workshops in Gloucestershire, please visit the website for full itineraries and information:

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‘May the light be with you’

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Author: Stephen Studd Photography

Stephen graduated from LCP in London in 1987 with a 2:1 BA Honours degree in photography. Since then he has travelled the world as a professional freelance travel & garden photographer. His photography has been published in many areas around the globe; from front cover of National Geographic magazine, to countless travel books, brochures and print media. His work has also been used in many advertising campaigns, with clients such as Fiat, Citigroup, Caribou Coffee, Expedia, BBC and countless others and his photography has picked up numerous international awards.. Stephen leads travel photography holidays and tours to Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Vietnam & the USA. He also leads flower photography workshops and landscape photography workshops in the UK. Stephen can be contacted for commissions via his photography website.

4 thoughts on “Photographing pre-sunrise & post sunset

  1. I really struggle with mornings unless I’ve pitched a tent. Even the day I went to Hawaii I woke up in the morning and thought for a minute – Oh blast! have I really got to get up and go to Hawaii?

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