Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips

The post Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Sunrise pictures can be tricky. Even the most dedicated photographer can get frustrated with sub-par results, often with foregrounds that are too dark or a nice round sun that appears white and washed-out. While things like timing and technique are critical for taking good sunrise pictures, another element is the editing. With a few Lightroom sunrise photo editing tips, you can take a boring, bland sunrise and turn it into a work of art.

Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips

To get a good finished photo you need a solid starting point. That means your initial sunrise photo needs to meet a few basic parameters:

  • It must be shot in RAW.
  • The sky should be properly exposed, which means the foreground will be dark.
  • It’s helpful to shoot with low ISO values to give you as much headroom as possible when editing.

If you start with a sunrise photo that meets these parameters, you can use a few sliders and options in Lightroom to bring out the colors and brilliance that you saw with your eyes when you shot it.

To illustrate this process, I’m going to walk through an example of sunrise photo editing. The picture below is a RAW file straight out of my camera.


Original RAW file straight from my camera. Nikon D750, 50mm, f/4, 1/180 second, ISO 320.

This picture might not look very impressive, but that’s the point. If I had exposed for the foreground, the dark areas would be bright and natural. The trade-off is that parts of the sky would be so bright they would be unrecoverable in Lightroom.

Everything needed for a beautiful sunrise photo is fully intact in this dark, underexposed image. I just need to coax out the colors with a little sunrise photo editing.

Step 1: Shadows

The first thing to do is brighten the foreground by adjusting the shadows. Locate the Basic Panel in the Lightroom Develop module and push the Shadows slider all the way to the right.

Image: Boosting the shadows will make the dark foreground a lot more usable.

Boosting the shadows will make the dark foreground a lot more usable.

This makes the foreground much brighter. It is very close to how the scene looked when I shot the picture. I was on my bike, and there’s no way I would have ridden to work that morning in the complete pitch black!


With the shadows lifted, the foreground is brighter. You can also see that there is plenty of image data captured in the RAW file to work with.

Step 2: White balance and graduated filters

After bringing up the shadows, the next step is to tweak the colors of the sky and foreground. The graduated filter is perfect for this since your edits are applied gradually, as the name implies.

Image: Graduated Filters are ideal for sunrise photos.

Graduated Filters are ideal for sunrise photos.

The values you use for this will depend greatly on the look you want in your picture. For a good starting point, I recommend lowering the Temperature, raising the Whites, and increasing the Saturation. Feel free to tweak the other settings to your liking, but I recommend being a little conservative at this point. You can always go back and change things later. If you have objects protruding into your sky like trees, buildings, or mountains, you can use the Range Mask option. Then your edits are only applied to the sky and nothing else.

Image: When using a Graduated Filter on the sky, I like to lower the color temperature and increase...

When using a Graduated Filter on the sky, I like to lower the color temperature and increase saturation. You might find other tweaks to be helpful as well.

After adjusting the sky, use a second Graduated Filter to perform a similar operation on the foreground. Click the New button at the top of the Graduated Filter panel, and click-and-drag on the picture to apply your filter.

Move the Temperature slider to the right so the foreground is a little warmer. Then adjust other options like Exposure, Texture, and Sharpness as needed.

Image: A second Graduated Filter in the opposite direction can be useful for giving the foreground a...

A second Graduated Filter in the opposite direction can be useful for giving the foreground a warmer white balance.

There’s no correct way to do this next step because everyone has unique taste and preferences. I used the following values on the image above, but your results will vary depending on your picture.

Image: When applying a second Graduated Filter to the foreground, it can be useful to edit some othe...

When applying a second Graduated Filter to the foreground, it can be useful to edit some other parameters as well, especially Exposure and Shadows.

Step 3: Crop the picture

Some will debate the exact stage in the process where you need to crop your picture. Others will say that a good photographer should use what comes out of the camera and never crop anything! I say it’s your picture and if you want to crop, go right ahead. I recommend cropping after your basic adjustments are in place. Those operations can bring out things formerly hidden and give you a better sense of how you really want to crop the image.

In the image I’m working with for this example, I don’t like the “Speed Limit 35” sign on the right side. If I crop that out, then I need also to re-frame the picture, so the sun is in the middle.


You can use cropping to get the dimensions and proportions of your picture just right.

Step 4: General Color Adjustments

After making your initial set of adjustments, and cropping the picture to your liking, it’s time to head to the HSL/Color panel to tweak the individual colors of the sunrise. Bring up the Saturation level of orange, blue, and red while also adjusting the Hue and Luminance to get just the right look. As before, be careful not to go overboard since too much tweaking makes your picture look unnatural.

For the picture below, I adjusted the Hue and Saturation of Blue by +20 each, and the Saturation of Orange by 14.

Image: Adjusting the blues and oranges can really bring out some of the vivid colors of a sunrise pi...

Adjusting the blues and oranges can really bring out some of the vivid colors of a sunrise picture.

Image: Don’t overdo your adjustments or your image will look fake and over-saturated.

Don’t overdo your adjustments or your image will look fake and over-saturated.

Step 5: Detailed enhancements

As with cropping, some photographers have varying opinions on when to do this step while others skip it entirely. I like to do it near the end of the editing process after I have made my other adjustments. However, you might find it better utilized at an earlier phase. Head back to the Basic panel where everything began and fine-tune a couple of other sliders like Highlights, Whites, Texture, and even Exposure if you need to.


Final tweaks help put the finishing touches on your sunrise.

At this point, you’re really just putting the finishing touches on, almost like adding a pinch of salt or garlic powder to a pot of soup that’s ready to eat. I sometimes get lost down an image-editing rabbit hole at this step. I find myself endlessly tweaking the sliders in a vain attempt to chase perfection. If that happens to you, walk away from your computer for an hour. When you return, you may be pleasantly surprised at how good your picture looks, with no additional tweaking required.

Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips

You can also use the Spot Removal tool to clean up dust or dirt on the lens as well as fix other imperfections. There are also several Sharpening options to make your sunrise a little more clear and crisp.

From good to great

As with most photo editing situations, your results will vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. I have found that this same process, with different degrees of adjustments to the sliders, works quite well for me. It would probably work as a good starting point for you too. Still, I encourage you to experiment and develop your own editing style over time.

For one more example of how this process can yield good results, I started with the following RAW file. I shot this picture just as the sun was coming up in rural Nebraska.


RAW file straight out of my camera. 50mm, f/8, 1/180 second, ISO 100. As with the other image at the top of this article, the original is severely underexposed but contains all the data needed when editing in Lightroom.

I used the exact same process described in this article to vastly improve the picture in less than two minutes.


Two minutes later and it’s been transformed into a frame-worthy midwestern sunrise.

I hope these sunrise photo editing tips help you achieve some epic photos!

I’d love to see some of your sunrise shots and hear about the editing process you use as well. Leave your thoughts, as well as any pictures you’d like to share, in the comments below.



The post Create Amazing Sunrise Photos with these Easy Lightroom Editing Tips appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Take Epic Sunrise Photos with a Zoom Lens

The post How to Take Epic Sunrise Photos with a Zoom Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.


Taking a beautiful sunrise picture might seem simple: just point your camera or mobile at the sun as it creeps over the horizon and you’re good to go. While this can certainly result in an interesting image, you can take sunrise pictures to a whole new level with a zoom lens and a bit of camera knowledge. If you have a lens with a longer focal length that goes to 200 or 300mm, you can get some epic sunrise pictures with a zoom that showcase the majesty of nature in the morning.


200mm, f/11, 1/500 second, ISO 100

Seek the sun

Before you can take a good sunrise picture, you need to do a bit of planning, so you know when the sun is going to come up. It also helps to know where to look so you’re ready when the moment hits. A quick internet search with your location and the words “sunrise time” will help you know what time to take pictures. As far as where to look, that’s up to you.

Of course, the sun always rises in the east, but it’s necessary to know exactly where it will come up relative to your specific location and time of year. To get the best results, you want to snap your pictures right as the sun appears on the horizon. If buildings obstruct your view, you’re going to need to find a location that offers an unobstructed view in the right direction.

To show how precise this process is, look at the picture below. I shot it as the sun was coming up, but the result is boring, bland, and entirely unremarkable.

Image: 200mm, f/6.7, 1/500 second, ISO 800

200mm, f/6.7, 1/500 second, ISO 800

This was shot precisely one minute and 48 seconds before the picture at the top of this article. Why is it so boring? The answer is a simple truth of the business world: location, location, location. While I looked east for the sun, I didn’t realize it had already crested the horizon behind a grove of trees. I was able to take a vastly improved picture just by repositioning myself 100 meters from this point.

When you go out to take sunrise photos, make sure you can actually find the sun!

Expose for the sun

Nailing the exposure on a sunrise picture is quite tricky. Imagine taking a picture of a flashlight in a dimly-lit room. You’ll end up with one of two results: 

  • The room will be properly exposed while the flashlight is super bright.
  • The flashlight will be properly exposed while the rest of the room will be entirely dark.

 It’s nearly impossible to get a properly-exposed flashlight and a properly-exposed room.

Image: 200mm, f/8, 1/30 second, ISO 280. Aside from being hidden behind the trees, this is also a po...

200mm, f/8, 1/30 second, ISO 280. Aside from being hidden behind the trees, this is also a poor shot because the sky and sun are just too bright. The foreground is fine, but all the color detail in the sky is mostly gone.

That is precisely what it’s like to take a picture of the sunrise, especially with a telephoto lens. What you want is a picture where the bright parts (i.e. the sun and sky) aren’t too bright, and the dark parts (i.e. the foreground) aren’t too dark. Basically you want an HDR image, but rather than shooting on a tripod and combining multiple exposures in post-production, you can do it with a single image by shooting in RAW.

Since RAW files capture much more picture data than JPEG files, you can fix many issues in Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, and other editing applications. The trick is to make sure you don’t lose any data to clipping, which happens when bright things are so bright that it doesn’t record data. The same can happen with dark areas too, but it’s usually not as much of a problem.

Image: 200mm, f/8, 1/1000 second, ISO 280. Exposing for the sun gave me a lot more wiggle room to fi...

200mm, f/8, 1/1000 second, ISO 280. Exposing for the sun gave me a lot more wiggle room to fix the darker areas of the picture in Lightroom.

There are a couple of ways to expose for the sun so it’s not too bright. You can set your camera to Center-Weighted metering, which ensures the middle of your picture is not too bright or too dark. Another method (and the one which I prefer), is to have your camera evaluate the entire scene but use exposure compensation to under-expose by roughly two stops.

Regardless of how you meter the scene and set your exposure, the end result is the same. In your resulting image, you want the sun to be visible and not too bright. This means the foreground will be dark, but remember that you can recover everything you need when you process the RAW file.

Use a small aperture

If you have a high-end zoom lens like a 70-200 f/2.8 or a 300mm f/4, you might be tempted to shoot sunrise pictures with the largest possible aperture. Blurry foregrounds and backgrounds are great, right? So why wouldn’t you shoot wide open?

Contrary to what you might think, smaller apertures are better when taking sunrise photos. First, it helps make sure your entire picture is sharp. Bokeh is great on portraits but not so desirable on most landscapes. A blurry foreground (thanks to a wide aperture) can distract the viewer and leave the scene feeling kind of mushy as a result.

Image: 200mm, f/11, 1/250 second, ISO 100

200mm, f/11, 1/250 second, ISO 100

Another reason to use smaller apertures, like f/8 or f/11, is that it gives you more control over your exposure. Remember, the sun is really bright, so you don’t need to worry about not getting enough light in your picture! On the contrary, you actually want to limit the amount of light, especially since you want the foreground to be underexposed. A small aperture helps with this.

Use a fast shutter speed

The sun moves fast – really fast. Or, rather, the earth spins fast. That’s what is actually happening when you see the sun come up. And just like any time you want to capture motion, you need to use a shutter speed that’s up to the task. Slower values like 1/30th and 1/60th will not only make exposure tricky, but result in a blurry sun as it speeds upwards on the horizon.


200mm, f/2.8, 1/4000th of a second, ISO 100. I broke my own rule about small apertures here, specifically because I wanted the vehicle in the foreground to be out of focus. The trade-off for such a wide aperture was a very fast shutter speed.

I recommend a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th, and even faster if possible. 1/500th is even better. If you are exposing for the sun, you might even use ultra-fast shutter speeds like 1/1000th or more. Of course, the foreground will be dim, but that’s fine since you can recover those shadows in post-production.

One nice thing about this is it means you don’t need to use a tripod. So that means one less thing for you to bring with you to your sunrise photo shoots. Handheld will work fine, even when zoomed all the way in. That’s because you should have a shutter speed that will compensate for any motion blur due to camera shake.

Be patient, but act fast

Once you have the technical aspects figured out, and you know where you want to position yourself to capture a sunrise, the final piece off the puzzle is patience. I recommend arriving early so you can make sure everything is situated properly. Bring some music or a podcast because you might be waiting a little while. However, it’s better to arrive early than scramble at the last minute.


190mm, f/2.8, 1/180th of a second, ISO 250. The sun wasn’t up yet, but I really liked the rich purple and blue colors of the sky – an added bonus of arriving early and waiting. Note the large aperture. It was required to let plenty of light in since there just wasn’t much light available.

As soon as you start to see the sun peek over the horizon, you only have a few minutes to get your shots. Remember to use a small aperture, expose for the sun, and shoot in RAW, and you should be fine. Go ahead and snap a few pictures with your mobile phone too. You’ll be amazed at how much more dramatic and impactful your pictures are with a zoom lens!


200mm, f/8, 1/1000th of a second, ISO 100. The sun isn’t in this picture but you can clearly see the morning light on the clouds. I liked the silhouette of the tower against the glowing morning sky too. You can’t get this shot with a mobile phone!

Do you have any other tips for sunrise photos with a zoom lens? Share with us in the comments. Also, I’d love to see your sunrise photos, and I’m sure the rest of the DPS community would also, so please share them in the comments too!



The post How to Take Epic Sunrise Photos with a Zoom Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Sunset Photography 101

It seems like everybody loves looking at beautiful sunsets, which is probably why sunset photography is such a competitive niche. If you want to take stunning sunset pictures, then here are some some simple techniques you can use to get photos that really stand out.

Sunset Photography Rule #1: Protect Your Camera and Your Eyes

It is harmful to your eyes and your camera’s image sensor to point your camera directly at the sun. Using a long lens or optical zoom will magnify the damaging effects. Play it safe and get the better picture by waiting until the sun is sinking below the horizon or is a dark red.

Sunset Photography Rule #2: Capture the Color

Ever take a beautiful brilliant sunset and then see it on your computer and wonder what happened to the bright colors? Usually the culprit is the camera’s automatic white balance. While your human eyes appreciate those brilliant sunset yellows, oranges, magentas and blues, the camera’s automatic white balance tries to correct them, to dull them down so that they appear “normal.”.Here is what you can do to capture the true color:

  • If you have manual settings, turn off the auto white balance, and then set the white balance to the warm side.
  • If you’re using an SLR or DSLR or your camera has a color lens setting, try taking some pictures with the red filter.
  • Using a compact that doesn’t offer these manual settings? The easiest solution is to set your camera to sunset mode. You can use this for sunrises too. Sunset mode automatically sets the white balance to keep its color balance warm. Sunset mode also helps the camera to automatically use the best focus and exposure (no flash) for this type of picture.
  • None of the above? Use Landscape mode or automatic, and then use a photo editor to adjust the white balance to reflect the brilliant colors you know were there.
  • You may also want to play around with different exposure settings on your camera or you can use a photo editor to lighten or darken the tones. Be sure to make changes on copies, not the original!
  • Often a slower shutter speed will better capture the sunset; in this case, a tripod may be needed to steady your camera.

Sunset Photography Rule #3: Capture the Best Compositions

  • Use basic landscape photography techniques and patience to create stunning sunset pictures.
  • Not all sunsets will make great pictures. To get a remarkable sunset picture, you need an amazing sunset. Clouds almost always make for more dramatic sunsets. These are often found with sunsets over large bodies of water.
  • Give yourself time to watch the sunset and wait for the really amazing pictures.
  • Take your sunset photos in areas where you’re free from clutter or distractions like power lines and buildings (unless you intend to have the building as part of your photo).
  • Compose your pictures with something in the foreground like a palm tree or boat to give the image context and scale. The sunset will usually create the silhouettes giving your picture more drama.
  • If the sky is the most dramatic part of the sunset, compose your picture so that two thirds of it is filled with sky. If the water’s reflection or silhouettes is the most interesting part of the picture, give this 2/3 of the picture’s frame.
  • Head to a beach where you’ll find some of the best sunset pictures. Here you can watch the sun set over the horizon and your pictures will have the colorful reflections from the water. Other good places include the desert and prairie where you also often can see the horizon and where the additional dust in the air adds to the color.

And once you take a sunset picture you love, make sure to display it a picture frame on your wall. Many sunset photos have stunning vistas that can look great framed in a panoramic picture frame or displayed in a picture frame and mat.

This is all you need for succeeding at sunset photography so start using these tips and you’ll be happily surprised at the beautiful sunset pictures you’ll capture.

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