March 5, 2021
By Brandon Hirt, Delaware State Parks Volunteer Photographer
When it comes to sunrise photography, there are a few things to consider before heading out to capture that perfect sunrise. In this post, Brandon Hirt, Delaware State Parks Volunteer Photography, is sharing his best tips and tricks to help you take sunrise photos on your next outdoor adventure to any Delaware State Park. You’ll learn how to plan the equipment needed, the planning beforehand, and technical camera settings to help improve your sunrise photography skills.
For sunrise photography, you’ll want to keep your camera still with a tripod. Tripods need to be sturdy enough so your camera will not tip over from the wind or ocean water. If you don’t have a tripod, or you forgot it, you can use a sturdy rock, backpack, snow, or even a sandcastle!
A shutter control will help you trigger your shutter without adding a possible camera shake that will blur your image. Don’t have one yet? Use the self-timer in your camera and set it to 10 seconds to eliminate the risk of camera shake.
I recommend using a neutral density filter (I use a 10 stop that can bring my shutter speed to 30 seconds on a sunny sunrise). This filter will reduce the intensity of the light coming into your camera. Another filter is a circular polarizer. Polarizing filters can help with unwanted reflections and keeping blue skies.
I usually use lenses within the 24-105 mm range. I prefer this range because it gives me enough zoom to be a bit farther from the water’s edge so I don’t have to worry about falling in or being hit by a wave. Sometimes I will also use a 14 mm if I have something in the foreground I can get really close to.
Condensation loves air conditioning + warm humid summer beach mornings. I keep my camera in a Ziploc bag when I take it inside for the night. Keep it in the bag until you get to your location and the camera has enough time to warm up. If your lens foggy, don’t change the lens! Sit down, relax, and watch the sunrise or use that fog on your lens for creativity.
Check the weather forecast to see what the clouds are doing. I will sometimes have two spots picked out and will look at the sky before I get in the car to decide which way to go. If it’s going to be cloudy or raining, I will go to a place where the fog may enhance the landscape, like Trap Pond State Park, If it’s clear, I will go to a place where I can see the sun coming up over the horizon, like Cape Henlopen State Park. Make sure to have a plan where to g,o but be ready to pivot to a different location.
Tides play a big part in some beach locations like Cape Henlopen. You may want a low tide when you are at Herring Point for sunrise or The Point for sunset.
Plan to arrive about an hour before the actual sunrise time. This will give you time to get to your spot, get your equipment ready, and frame the photos you hope to capture. You can also start shooting at dawn with the dark blue sky. If you are lucky enough to have clouds, they will turn pink and red before the sun is above the horizon. If you are early enough, you might be able to capture some star images.
Visit the same locations multiple times so you can shoot different light situations. I have visited Herring Point at Cape Henlopen State Park for 10 different sunrises and each one has been completely different. Try visiting the location when the tide is low or high and make a trip at sunset or at night.
Become comfortable with your camera settings and practice using long exposures at home. Play with your tripod and cable release before going out to a location. Put your camera on the tripod and shoot the clouds in the sky or your crazy dog running around the yard. Try different exposures from 1/500, 1/60, 1/5, 1 second, and even longer to see what they capture. Take some shots with and without your filters to see how they change your exposure shutter speed.
Here are some shutter speed samples depending on what your subject is.
Aperture is the amount of light that is let into your camera. The smaller the number, the more light that is let into the camera, but the smaller the focal plane. If you just want the foreground in focus, then F2.8-5.6 is your friend. If you prefer everything to be in focus, use F18 or F22.
Don’t be afraid and bracket with different shutter speeds or apertures. I always try multiple shutter speeds when I’m shooting at sunrise. I try to capture the different moods created by different shutter speeds. I usually end up shooting between 100-300 images and if I get one keeper I’m happy.
Have fun and enjoy!