The East Cape area of the southern Baja peninsular in Mexico is renowned for spectacular sunrises.
With the coast of the Sea of Cortez facing East, the sunrise may be viewed without obstruction all the way to the horizon. In the winter months, light cloud cover often adds significant drama to the sky substantially enhancing the sunrise.
Planning ahead is essential. If you look at the photos on this page you will note that despite their wide range of appearance, especially with regard to colour, they cover a time frame of only 15mins. Sunrises happen FAST so it is imperative to pre-plan your location and be there set up and ready at least 20min BEFORE sunrise.
This likely means you will be setting up in the dark - and it may be chilly pre-dawn, so make sure you are adequately dressed for comfort and carry a small flashlight.
This also means that it is not always possible to know in advance whether the sunrise will be particularly spectacular that morning. Many times I have planned a sunrise shoot only to be left disappointed by a drab sunrise - normally either as a result of too little or too much cloud cover.
If this happens - don't give up! You may have to simply keep returning until you get the rewarding sunrise shots you are looking for. As with many things in life - it's worth waiting for
To find out exactly when and in which direction the sun will rise at your intended location, I suggest consulting the excellent photographers ephemeris website or if you have an iPhone download their app.
Keep shooting: When you are rewarded with a spectacular sunrise - keep shooting as sunrises will often proceed through a number of equally striking phases, ranging from the "sky on fire" deep reds that often occur around 10mins before the sun reaches the horizon, to yellows pinks and blues as the sun comes up.
All the photos on this page were from the same day over a timeframe of only 15mins!
Tripod? If you have a tripod (or can compose your shot with the camera positioned on a solid surface such the ground or a wall) then I would recommend you take bracketed exposures (minimum of three) in order to be sure to capture the full range of luminance levels in the image. Its important to use a tripod (and a cable release or self timer) to avoid camera movement between the shots AND to avoid camera shake should the shutter speed fall below about 1/60s (or 1/15s if you have a good Image stabilisation system on your lens or camera) NOTE if you DO use a tripod, switch the IS system OFF. Just because you take bracketed shots does not mean that you HAVE to subsequent merge them to an HDR image - but you may find when reviewing you images later that a slightly under or overexposed shot actually gives you a more pleasing end result. You could achieve the same result by using exposure compensation (if shooting in Av or Tv mode - but as Sunrises happen so fast I find i preferable to simply bracket the shots rather than spend time reviewing the image and histogram and making decisions about exposure adjustments on location.
Handholding. If you are handholding and taking single exposures, try to avoid shutter speeds less than 1/60s (or maybe 1/15s if you have a good image stabilisation) - if you need a particular aperture for the depth of field that suits the composition, then rather than open the aperture, don't be afraid to increase the ISO in order to maintain the minimum shutter speed. As the Sunrise progresses the light will quickly increase so you will almost certainly be able to reduce the ISO back to its minimum setting. Remember a slightly "noisy" shot is always preferable to a "blurry" shot. Noise can be fixed in post production - whereas blurry shots cannot!
Metering. Even if you intend bracketing the exposures It can be a good idea to use spot metering to set the base exposure. I often find that evaluative metering tends to considerably over expose the shot causing the sky to wash out and lose the richness of the sunrise colours. I favour taking a spot reading from the bright sky near the sun position and then fixing the exposure via the exposure lock (or dialling in the exposure settings in manual mode and then bracketing the exposures by manually varying the shutter speed.)
For this type of photography I would always recommend shooting in RAW. As can be seen from the comparisons below, post development of the RAW image (in this case in Adobe Lightroom) simply gives much greater flexibility to bring out the full colours, contrast and tonal range that was witnessed with the eye when viewing the sunrise for real.
The other benefit from both shooting bracketed shots and in RAW format can bee seen by comparing these "as shot" and "RAW conversion" versions of the same image.
Normally for this particular image composition, I would have been more likely to choose the standard exposure with O e.v. exposure compensation. But in this case the -1 e.v. compensation exposure also happened to include the bird in flight, which I felt significantly added to the composition. As this was a RAW file it can be seen that it was possible to considerably brighten and recover details in the image in RAW development in Lightroom. I feel in this example that the slight reduction in image quality as a result of really boosting the shadows to an extreme is more than compensated by the improved composition.
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