A Different Approach to Shooting Sunrises

To me, photographs of sunrises and sunsets are, on their own, almost always underwhelming. To make a sunrise/set photograph compelling, you need an additional element. For example, a pier or boat, an interesting silhouette, wildlife or dramatic clouds. Practically speaking a sunrise/set provides a colorful, vibrant and interesting backdrop for your image. So how do you capture the essence of a sunrise/set when there are no interesting elements to add? This was the dilemma I faced on a recent trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Walking along a beautiful beach, shared by only a handful of other people, watching the glorious colors evolve on the horizon, seeing and hearing the waves crash on the beach, smelling the salty air… how do you capture that in a two-dimensional photo? There were no piers or other structures in the water to help in the composition. The sky was perfectly clear so there was no chance of getting a dramatic “cloud-scape”. What I experimented with, and ended up really liking, was to take a longish exposure (I suppose 5 seconds is long, but not compared to the 2+ minute long exposures of water I’ve done) and horizontally pan the camera. Many people have done longer exposures of beach sunrises which shows the motion of the waves as they come in to shore. But by panning horizontally, you get a completely different, more abstract look which I really enjoyed. You can still discern waves and the panning provides a sense of motion while the colors on the horizon give the images vibrancy. I like the photograph below in particular because the band of water closest to shore (bottom) is reflecting the color of the pre-dawn sky. Personally, if I want a photograph that captures the experience of a sunrise on the beach, I’d much rather be looking at something like this, rather than a stale image of a blown out white sun over the ocean.



Add yours →

  1. Some nice ideas hear, thanks.

  2. Heather Nahrwold October 25, 2013 — 9:22 PM

    I would love to have a print of the wild horses of NC on the beach. I came across your picture in a google search and it is my favorite! If there is any way I can buy a print of this, please let me know. Thank you!

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