At the Break of Dawn
The very first rays of the sun are great not just for your health. Start off early at daybreak, and you can end up getting some really stunning photographs.
Yes, most of us do feel too lazy to drag ourselves out of bed, at what may seem like an unearthly hour. But to be honest, there is no effort more rewarding than going out to shoot at the first light of dawn. There will be no crowds to disturb the photographic process, and all you need to concentrate on is light and composition. The serene atmosphere at dawn will allow you to be alone and one with nature.
Capture the First Light of Dawn
There is a lot of natural light available even before sunrise. Our eyes are not sensitive enough to see this light, but the camera’s sensor can. Boost the ISO or use a slow shutterspeed to capture this light. Also, watch out for the first visible light that filters through mountain peaks, clouds or even through the window of your room.
Dawn also offers a palette full of colours. From calming shades of blue to fresh hues of green and yellow—the period just before sunrise shows a dramatic change of colours.
Combine Stillness and Motion
Long exposures at dawn can be extremely interesting, because the light changes rapidly. Mount the camera on a tripod, and find an interesting subject that is stationary and can become the focal point of your frame. It could be a bridge, a landscape or even a friend.
Now, experiment with long exposures. If an opportunity presents itself, include clouds and water in your frame—their motion in the frame, during the exposure time, gives the photograph a surreal effect.
Use the Rising Sun as Backdrop
You can use the rising sun as backlight for your subject. Spot meter from the subject to expose it properly, so that the backlight forms a halo. If you wish to capture a silhouette, you can use evaluative metering.
Make a Time-lapse Series
If you notice carefully, the quality of light changes very rapidly just before the sun rises on the horizon. It would be interesting to shoot a series of photographs to record this change. This is called a timelapse series. You could shoot any subject; a series of the sky at sunrise works as well as that of a landscape that does not directly include the sun. Use a tripod, and take a photograph every 5–10 seconds.
You can use a basic movie-making software to convert it into a time-lapse video. Alternatively, you can arrange them in the form of a collage, or even make a flipbook.
Capture Maximum Detail
Concentrate on capturing as much detail as you can. Bracket your exposure to figure out the optimum value. You can also shoot an HDR image, by shooting the same frame at different exposures. Alternatively, you can shoot in RAW, and increase the tonality of the image while processing.
Use Dawn Light to Shoot the Moon
Just before sunrise, the colours of the sky begin to change, but the light is still not enough to outshine the moon. This makes dawn an interesting time to shoot the moon. You can also shoot two photographs—one with the moon and one without—and then sandwich the two together. This can either be done in an image editing software, or in-camera—if your camera has a Multiple Exposure or Image Overlay feature.
Let Your Watch be a Sunrise Tracker
While we all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the position of the sun on the horizon differs throughout the year. Position your watch such that 12 o’clock points north. Use the tracking chart to determine the position where the sun would rise. For example, with 12 o’clock pointing to the north, the sun would rise in the direction suggested by 3 o’clock in March and September.
These simple techniques can help you shoot great pictures at daybreak. The fact that it is the very first light of a new day makes it all the more special.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Better Photography.
Tags: Shooting Technique, Raj Lalwani, Composition, colours, Sunrise, day, February 2009, dawn, morning, details