Sunrise Vs Sunset Photography (STo 007)

Would you describe yourself as more of an early bird or more of a night owl? Well, let me tell you there are added benefits of both in terms of taking photographs.

Sunrise over Hwy-93: May 2018

I’m not entirely sure it’s a ‘heated’ debate, but many a photographer live by the mantra of ‘chasing the sun.’ For those of you who may not know, this basically means get up early to fully exploit what many call the ‘golden hour.’ This is the timeframe that lies from about 30 mins prior to 30 mins after sunrise and sunset. During this time you will have the best balance between both hard and soft light, allowing for a vast array of colors without the photo becoming washed out/overexposed.

While I’ve always been a fan of the morning photo (I’m more of an early bird anyway) it does have its detractors. Things like travel obstructions, pre-dawn hikes, and scouting come to mind.

Travel obstructions are probably going to be your biggest annoyance when it comes to morning photography; they can range from simple road-work to closed trailheads, and either way they’re going to make your chance of getting that perfect shot that much harder. As you may want to push getting up later to save the energy for that drive home, if you don’t get rolling on time and provide yourself a buffer for any possible obstructions to you making your picture window, your opportunity will be shot.

Pre-dawn hikes aren’t all that bad if you ask me. But because you’re up and out before the rest of the world, you get to slap on a head-lamp and go enjoy the sound of silence, many prefer hiking with the sun lighting the way. And I get it – many of our predatory friends like to hunt during dusk/dawn and our good old human peepers aren’t exactly the best at distinguishing things at night. So that’s another hassle of morning photo shoots.

Yosemite Valley Sunrise: Oct 2017

And then you got the classic scouting for your location. For morning shoots, this is going to be very tough for you, as you will not be able to do it same day. You’ll have to get out there the prior morning or evening to know exactly where you’ll want to be to set up, project where the sun will be coming from so you can get your placement right, then make the whole trip again the following morning. For isolated locations, if you don’t camp overnight this can be a real detractor for many to go and get their photos!

But, getting to watch the Earth peel away the veil that’s cascading over a mountaintop, or seeing the individual rays glimmer and dance one-by-one atop the waters of the lake really make the whole experience worth it, and each one feels wholly unique!

Sunsets. Sunset photography, if you ask me, is a far more controllable endeavor. For sunsets photos, you basically flip the structure and you’re good to go. You can sleep in, you can take your time getting to where you need to go, and you can scout your location to take your photos the same day you get there! Because of this, you can have a lot more control over your lighting which will make it far easier to get that shot. Of course, like sunset photos, if it’s a remote location and you aren’t camping you’ll be hiking in the dark. If you were looking to socialize with your friends at the local pub or brewery you’ll be joining them later as you had to get the shot. These are just a few things to think about.

Sunset over Lake Mcdonald (Glacier NP): Jan 2018

So as with anything, there will be trade-offs with either decision you make. As I reread this post, it seems weighed in favor of morning shots… Again, I’m naturally a morning person, so I’m more inclined to be up and about for them. I do believe that sunset photos are a far better choice due to scouting considerations, plus if you had a good hike to your spot you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself before stressing out about taking that photo.

That’s all for this post. I know it’s a day late, but hopefully you were able to get some use out of it!

Which do you prefer sunrise, or sunset? Let’s get a discussion rolling down in the comments below!

Sunset over Tetons (Grand Teton NP): Jan 2018

We post three times a week regarding gear, trails and hikes, and tips/tricks for outdoor enthusiasts, so if you enjoyed this article please follow for more!

As a disclaimer, all photos posted in this article were taken by Donald Dodge. If you’d like more work by him, check out the link in our menu/footer, or go to 

The camera he uses is the Canon 80D – you can view it here


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