Every photographer has a favourite topic they’re crazy about. Mine is sunrise photography. The crazy part is that it often involves getting up very early – far earlier than a normal human being would consider while they’re travelling for leisure. But the results are often worth it.

How do you make your sunrise photos stand out? A good preparation is usually half the work, and when it comes to sunrise photography, it might even be 90 percent of the work. Here are seven sunrise photography tips you want to keep in mind when you’re dreaming of taking the ultimate early morning photo.

A good preparation is usually half the work, and when it comes to sunrise photography, it might even be 90 percent of the work.

1. Check sunrise times before you book your trip

You wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t willing to go the extra mile. But if you got to choose between getting up at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., you’d be forgiven for selecting the second option.

When I booked a photo trip to Prague in June 2015 – with a beautiful sunrise over Charles Bridge in mind – I didn’t realize that in June, the sun rises in Prague as early as 4.45 a.m. In hindsight, I should have gone there another time of the year.

So do yourself (and your travel partner) a favour, and check sunrise times before you book your trip. A good website for this is https://www.timeanddate.com/

Prague Charles Bridge Sunrise

2. Book a hotel near your area of interest

You don’t want to walk for two hours to get to the place where you plan to take your sunrise photos. In most cities, you could always take a taxi of course, but if you’re the walking type (like I am), it’s best to book a hotel near the area where you plan to take sunrise photos. Do your research online to see if you can identify an area that looks appealing (for example, browse through pictures on Instagram, 500px or on this website :-)). Then book a hotel close to that area.

Tip: it’s always a good idea to consider areas with water nearby, so you can capture some early morning reflections.

Singapore sunrise

3. Scout for photo locations first

One of the most important sunrise photography tips I can give you is that it is all about being at the right place at the right time. You don’t want to carry the stress of finding the right place when the first light of day is about to show up on the horizon. So again, preparation is key. Even if you have already planned to take your photos in a certain area (see Tip 2), familiarize yourself with the area the day before. Try to take photos at a few different spots, and compare the results. Pick your favourite spot beforehand to save yourself a lot of stress.

Shanghai sunrise

4. Check the weather the night before

If you’re getting up early for sunrise, you want to be sure that the effort will not be in vain. Always check the weather forecast the night before. Of course, this will never guarantee you that the weather will actually be good the next morning, but if there’s a 70-80% probability of rain, you might want to stay in bed and place your bets on another morning. At the same time, keep in mind that a few clouds will not necessarily spoil the fun. In fact, they could enhance the beauty of your photos in unforeseen ways.

Amsterdam IJburg sunrise

5. Allow yourself enough preparation time

If you follow the previous sunrise photography tips, you’ll know exactly where you’ll be going when the time has come to head out for sunrise with your camera. It’s still a good idea to allow yourself enough preparation time, to get your camera settings right once you’ve arrived at your destination. Make sure your tripod is on a firm footing. Depending on your preferences, you might also want to set up a filter (see Tip 6), which takes time as well. If you have everything in place before the show begins, you’ll be far more relaxed and you’ll get better results. You don’t want last-minute stress to ruin the experience!

Hong Kong sunrise

6. Don’t forget to take photos right before sunset

Strictly speaking this doesn’t belong in a list of sunrise photography tips, but don’t forget to take advantage of the hour before sunrise as well.

When you’re staring at your watch with sleepy eyes while you’re waiting for the sun to rise, you could easily overlook the beauty of a world that is slowly awakening. Sometimes, sunrise itself may disappoint, but a dark blue sky before sunrise hardly ever does!

If there is water nearby and the water is calm, try including reflections in your photos. Use a Neutral Density (ND) filter to create the silky, dreamy effect you can see below. I used a 6-stop ND filter in combination with a 3-stop graduated ND filter to create this mirror image of the skyline of Singapore.

Singapore blue hour

7. Try High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography

Okay, foreplay is over. It’s time for the real thing. Sunrise! With the right weather conditions, it’s a glorious moment, but figuring out the right camera settings can be challenging. When you’re shooting into the sun early in the morning, the high levels of contrast will easily render your photos either overly dark or overly bright. One way of correcting for this, is by taking photos with multiple exposure levels and merging them during post-processing in Lightroom. I tried this type of photography – called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography – for the first time in Florence, Italy, and I was impressed with the results. This tutorial on HDR photography will help you get started.

Florence Sunrise