Sunrise Photos

I love photographing the sunrise, the serenity before the day begins and watching the wildlife wake up and get moving is always magical. There are so many colors and moods that can be found during that short window of time. Last weekend I went to Hoover Reservoir in central Ohio to capture some sunrise photos. I got there around 6.15am because I wanted to capture the scene well before the sun came up. A few minutes before sunrise the light changes really quickly and the drama and moodiness fades away within perhaps 5 or 10 minutes. I’ve shot photos at Hoover Reservoir before, but never at this location. When I arrived it was still quite dark so I needed a flashlight to navigate through the terrain.

This shot was taken at 6.36am, 45 minutes before sunrise and required a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 200
Before sunrise

When photographing water, a long a exposure will smooth out the waves and ripples into a lovely, soft, smooth surface, reflecting the colors in the sky.

As the sun starts to get close to the horizon, the clouds are alight with yellows, oranges and reds, making the trees on the skyline look like they’re on fire. There’s a lot more light now, so this only required an exposure of 0.8s at f/16 and ISO 200.

trees on fire

This is the time when animals start stirring and moving around, looking for their breakfast. By now the light levels are rising rapidly and the colors are changing as the sunlight takes a more tangential path through the atmosphere. Capturing this gaggle of geese only required 1/80s at f/16 and ISO200.

gaggle of geese

We’re still seeing highly diffused reflected light as it’s bouncing off the clouds, but once the sun breaks the horizon, the direct sunlight casts warm, strong beams providing a lot more contrast between the highlights and deep shadows. This makes metering the scene a bit more difficult for the camera and really starts to stretch its EV range. Fortunately with combination of modern image processing software and recording images in the uncompressed RAW format, the highlights can be tamed and details brought out from the shadows. None of these images were processed using HDR techniques. To be honest I did try with a couple out of curiosity, but wasn’t thrilled with the results for these images.

warm tones, harder light source

This last shot was taken at 1/60s at f/16 and ISO200.

Only one hour passed from the first to the last photo, but it’s such an interesting time of day as there’s such a huge transformation in not only the light but the wildlife and photographic opportunities. Composition is also very different depending on whether the sun is above or below the horizon. If the sun is visible in the sky, shooting towards it will usually create lens flare, which can be used artistically, but most photographers try to avoid it.

If you get the chance, head out to a location before sunrise with your camera, the range of photos you can capture within one hour is amazing. Be sure to head over to my flickr stream as there are a few more photos from this shoot that I didn’t post here.