Making the Most of Sunrise and Sunset Landscape Photography

A while ago I was on a photography trip to the Canadian Rockies. During a sunrise shooting session at Bow Lake, along the Icefields Parkway, I was really struck by the actions of some other photographers in the same area.

This part of The Rockies is popular for photography. When the weather is good, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon other photographers during sunrise and sunset. Bow Lake is quite a drive from the nearest town of Lake Louise, so it requires a certain commitment to getting there for a sunrise session. I timed my drive to arrive an hour before sunrise and then I stayed for almost two hours after sunrise. The result was the three images you see on this page, and they were all captured almost exactly an hour apart from each other.

Image #1 – roughly 1 hour before sunrise.

I’m pleased with all of these photos for various reasons, and spending the necessary time at the lake enabled me to capture a range of colours, cloud formations and lighting conditions that you’d almost swear were taken on different days.

If I’m going to spend the time and money to get to a location such as this, I want to make sure I maximize my time there. What really struck me on this particular morning, was the number of other photographers that showed up at the lake, stayed 10-20 minutes, and then left. In fact, some showed up, took the obligatory Instagram selfie and left within 5 minutes!

Image #2 - A few minutes after sunrise.
Image #2 – A few minutes after sunrise.

One photographer, in particular, left the lake in a huff, exclaiming that there were “No good foregrounds to be had in the images this morning. The wind is causing too many ripples on the lake.” Funny, because that wasn’t a problem at all for me!

I gave myself time to take in the scene, explore the boundaries of the lake in several areas and experience the changing light. Yes, sometimes light itself can be the foreground in your image, as it is in photo #1 for me. In this instance, I used a telephoto lens, and the orange reflection became my foreground.

Perhaps part of the problem for the said photographer, was that this lake is quite famous for glassy reflections of Crowfoot Mountain. Many great images show that scene, but due to the wind-induced ripples, it wasn’t possible to capture it in that way on that morning. It’s a dangerous thing to go to a location with an absolute fixation on a specific image. It can really cloud your creativity from the other possible options.

Image #3 - Roughly one hour after sunrise.
Image #3 – Roughly one hour after sunrise.

Next time you are planning a sunrise or sunset landscape shoot, make sure you give yourself plenty of time before and after that one magical moment and make sure that you approach your shoot with an open mind to the compositional possibilities. Photography isn’t always easy, in fact, it’s very often extremely hard work!

When I posted photo #1 to my Facebook page, I laughed to myself when someone commented on the serenity of the moment. What I had captured was indeed a serene moment, but behind the camera, I was an out-of-breath, sweaty, mess of a man, whose camera gear had been scattered along the shore of the lake as I ran along its edge trying to get into the right spot for this shot.

I put the work in when I’m out with my camera. I take the time, I often carry heavy gear and I’m not afraid to run around when the light is moving fast and I want to capture a range of images. I often return to my car exhausted, mentally and physically, but always with a smile on my face, knowing that I made the most of what is, after all, a unique moment. Take your time. Put the effort in. You will be rewarded πŸ™‚

Photo of author
Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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11 thoughts on “Making the Most of Sunrise and Sunset Landscape Photography”

  1. Bahaha!!!
    “Out-of-breath, sweaty, mess of a man”… yep, I can certainly relate to that πŸ™‚

    Great pics Dan, always nice to come away with several keepers from a landscape shoot!

  2. Sweaty & mess of a man!
    How true esp. trying to get the best shots within a limited time frame. In Malaysia, the tropical heat & high humidity of the rainforest add to the ‘raindrops’ of sweat streaming down the face! Happy photography!

  3. Dan, great pictures, especially like the pre-sunrise one. Is the blue cast in image 2 “as you saw it”, or did you just keep the blue the sensor likely tended towards given the snow etc?

    • The camera rendered things a little warmer in tone than the final image, but I decided to keep things a little bluer because it felt closer to what I saw and felt in that moment. It felt cold to me, and I liked that look when I tried it out. What do you think? Would you have kept it warmer, or edited for the feel?

      • Dan,
        I’ve spent a good portion of my life living in higher altitudes and higher latitudes. I see blue light very vividly — it’s an important part of my life, even though most folks seem to want to “compensate” for it in their photos. So, I always appreciate your photo stories when you leave the blue in on purpose.


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