Why sunrise is a great time for HDR

Article Written by Jim Nix

I have mentioned many times that I am a fan of shooting at sunrise.  When you ask most photographers about their favorite time of day to shoot, I suspect a majority of the replies will be “sunset”.  Don’t get me wrong – sunset is awesome.  You can definitely get some dramatic light, and despite being a bit of a photographic cliché, it’s still awesome.

But I have found that shooting at sunrise gives me the opportunity for dramatic light as well, in addition to a bunch of other benefits.  It’s become my favorite time of day to shoot.  Do you ever get up and shoot sunrise?  Read on and let me know what you think!

1)      Start the day being creative

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to get inspired and creative later in the day.  I guess I am a morning person, and find that later in the day I am often tired from all that has transpired that day.  That’s one reason I love to get up and shoot at sunrise.  It’s a fabulous way to start the white bouncy castle day.  My creative juices start flowing and I am full of energy and enthusiasm.  I also haven’t had to deal with anything yet that is a possible hindrance to creative work, so I am free to be free, if that makes sense.  It’s a very positive way to start the day and I find that goodness carries on through the day for me.

2)      No crowds

This one may be obvious, but it’s huge.  One of my primary reasons for loving sunrise is that everyone else loves sunset.  It’s not that I want to be different, it’s just that I enjoy being able to take my shots without a bunch of tourists in the way.  I love shooting HDR, as you probably know by now, and although I have plenty of HDRs with folks in them…I prefer an empty scene.  It’s just how I am wired.  I think a photo is more impactful when you can just admire the beauty of a shot, free from human inclusion – even a street scene in a city, where you would expect to see some people.  In fact, especially a street scene in a city.

On my travels, I get to visit some pretty incredible cities.  Especially in Europe, cities are full of both locals and tourists.  Most tourists, since they are on a vacation, stay out and enjoy the nightlife whenever they are at their destination.  That’s part of the vacation fun – we all do that.  When you add that to the fact that most tourist locations don’t open until mid-to-late morning, you can begin to see how this works out for me.  Tourists like to sleep in, plus they probably don’t often get to at home.  That’s part of the allure of their vacation.  I have literally wandered the streets of great cities in the early morning hours and had them entirely to myself.  It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

3)      The world is at peace

When you are up and about early in the morning, everything is quiet and peaceful.  It’s incredible to experience that, and I find that it helps me have a clear head about the art I am making.  I like peaceful moments, probably because I don’t get enough of them!  I just find that I can think more clearly and focus better when my environment is peaceful, calm and quiet.

4)      Sunrise light can be great

Most photographers talk about the magnificent light at sunset, and that is true.  You may get great light then.  But I have shot plenty of sunsets that were just plain boring.  There is no guarantee that waiting until the end of the day will give you great light.  It’s a roll of the dice.  Well the same is true for sunrise…it’s also a gamble (and one you have to get up early to take!).  But I have had an equal amount of luck with great sunrise light as I have had with great sunset light.  Since it’s a risk either way, and I want a scene free of tourists…that tilts the odds to sunrise for me.   Just be sure and stop for caffeine at some point to fuel up…and to stay awake! :-)

5) And of course…..you still have sunset!

Here’s the final reason to get up and shoot at sunrise: if you don’t get the shots you wanted, or the light you wanted…you still have sunset that day to try again!  Talk about a productive day!  (Just be sure and take a nap when the sun is bright.)

What’s your best sunrise shooting experience?

Jim Nix is a photographer, traveler, HDR enthusiast, explorer, iPhone shooter, and tea drinker based in Austin, TX. He shares his photos and travel experiences on his blog at http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NomadicPursuits

  • ZubbuZ

    I have to agree – I far prefer to shoot sunrises than sunsets. It’s nice being up at that time of day, everything is quiet, no one else is around (especially in summer when the sun rises relatively early). I love the type of light you get with sunrises – it somehow feels cleaner than sunset…

    Also it means that my other half can stay in bed and not be bothered by my obsessive ways :P whereas at sunset we will both be out and about (especially on holiday) and I sometimes feel bad making her wait around all the time!

    • http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/ Jim Nix

      thanks ZubbuZ!

  • http://www.facebook.com/eRegal.Studio Everet D. Regal

    There is no greater time to be out than the early morning hours. Whether in the city or in the wilderness, morning allows you to observe the world waking up. It is far more full of life than the sunset hours. I regularly leave the house 1-2 hours before sunrise and find a spot to enjoy what will soon appear before my eyes and fill my ears. It’s always magical, even when it doesn’t provide for the perfect photo op! I’m with you 100%, Jim!

    • http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/ Jim Nix

      thanks Everet!