An Early Start Can be a Great Beginning: Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises

How to Shoot Morning's Light-and-Color Show!

by Kerry Drager

Joshua Tree Sunrise
Joshua Tree Sunrise
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises and More!

Dawn photography, in fact, can be a spectacular wake-up call. After all, there's nothing quite so satisfying as starting out the day with some beautiful images!

Among the benefits of getting up and getting out first thing in the morning:

- The wonderful light of "daybreak" - that otherworldly interval between darkness and daylight. Expect scenes of soft light and pastel tones, skies of deep blue or purple, and, at times, downright surreal colors.

- The potentially brilliant sky of sunrise. Shooting tip: For the best exposure, take a meter reading off a middle-tone area of the sky - not the brightest, not the darkest spot - lock in those settings, re-compose your photo, and fire away.

Cayucos Pier at Dawn
Cayucos Pier at Dawn
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
- Once the sun comes up, just about any subject will glow in the warm light - landscapes, cityscapes, intimate details, etc.

- With the low-angled sun, expect great opportunities for capturing strong graphic-design elements: i.e., silhouettes and shadows.

- There's still more: early-morning freshness, few people walking into your scene, and plenty of parking (a particular delight if you're in a tourist area). Plus, there are increased chances for water reflections and, depending on the time of year, moody fog.


Sunrise, Mono Lake, CA
Sunrise, Mono Lake, CA
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Plan to Get Up In the Dark to Catch those Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises!

Many daybreak sessions actually begin the day before - with a search for potential subjects. Midday scouting sessions involve previsualization - imagining what a scene might look like in the fine light of dawn.

Of course, it's easier to prepare for sunset, because you can arrive in daylight and then track the sun's progress. It's another story for first-light-of-day sessions, when you must get there early enough to check your surroundings and set up your gear in order to catch the beginning of daybreak. Yes, this means arriving on the scene when it's still dark.

The equipment part of the process should take place the night before, when you pack your gear for the morning shoot. Sure, you can do it in the morning ... but, believe me, it's verrrry easy to leave behind a key piece of gear when you're still half-asleep.


Old Boat 2
Old Boat 2
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
In the field, be ready to capture the drama at different times as the conditions and colors constantly change. In the pre-sunrise period, for instance, darkness gradually turns into soft light and beautiful tones. But as the sun clears the horizon, things happen fast, and successful sunrise shooters must operate quickly. That's where your pre-shoot planning really comes into play.

Lastly ...

  • For more examples, don't miss BetterPhoto's "Morning Light Photography and Pictures of Beautiful Sunrises" gallery.


  • About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
    Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
    Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

    Be sure to check out Kerry's website - www.kerrydrager.com.

    Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

    Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

    Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.