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Here Comes the Sun

Most people reach for their smart phone or camera when the sun starts to throw off colors.

Few photographers are immune.

But what makes a great sunrise or sunset shot is more than just lucking out, randomly stumbling on a sky full of color. Planning is important, and being prepared to move quickly.

Nature Next Door, Cary NC (c) 2006 Amberwood Media Group

Here are a few of the things I keep in mind when taking a great shot of the sun.

Planning

  • Don’t assume you need a wide angle lens to catch more sky; my best sun shots are almost always taken with a telephoto; it givies me some bokeh in the foreground, and a larger sun
  • Know where the sun is going to rise or set, and position yourself accordingly. The last few minutes of opportunity go quickly.
  • Sunrise is clearly harder than sunset. To make matters worse, the sun’s trajectory moves a little each day. An app like SkyView can be a trusted ally in the hunt.
  • Beach orientation to a pending sunrise is a huge factor; with the varied coastlines of North Carolina, it pays to know your bearings. The ocean – and that amazing sunrise – aren’t always where you’d expect
  • Timing is everything; I’m always most successful when I research local sunrise and sunset times, adjust for hills or mountains, and position myself 30 minutes prior. The shot from Roan Mountain below was only 15 miles away from me as the crow flies when I set out with my camera, but it was 45 minutes to get there, due to routes and switchbacks. I had to plan ahead. Once at Carver’s Gap, I had less than 15 minutes to find a spot and start shooting
  • On the other end, there can be lots of waiting for sunset chasers; grab a latte to pass the time

On the Scene

  • Don’t look at the sun directly, even through your view finder! Wait until the clouds or thickened atmosphere near the horizon come to your aid
  • Watch for scattered clouds near the horizon, these signal opportunity
  • Try to find something in the foreground to frame the view; it can be a nicely shaped tree, the edge of a roof or wall, anything that can place the sun in context; this also helps remind me where I was when the shot was taken
  • Look for ways to diffuse the sun’s colors, like fog over water; the pond in my neighborhood rewarded me with the shot above; it was late March in Raleigh and about 32 degrees; I was VERY glad for that latte

When It’s Over

  • Sadly, many sunrises or sunsets don’t afford an exciting view
  • Be prepared to leave empty-handed
  • More “at bats” (chances) will lead to more success; rise early and tarry late, and keep your DSLR and telephoto nearby – you’ll up your success rate
  • Avoid the temptation to amp-up or add your own colors in post-production edits. Sure, we all tap the contrast and saturation a tad. But let nature cover the hues.

Do any of these shots resonate with you more than others? The shots here are my favorites over the last 15 years.  I’d love your thoughts and comments. And ket me know if you have other tips or stories to share. War stories help us all connect the dots.

Meantime, recharge those batteries – and I’ll see you on the ridge, at sundown.

Sunrise on Roan at the TN-NC line, looking east (c) 2017

Sunset in a Salida CO, with evening haze to exhance the mood (c) 2019

Almost home, Cary NC, after stopping for an evening latte (c) 2006