Sunrise, Sunset and an initiation into Night Photography


Sunsets are among the most photographed subjects on earth. Its amazingly simple to do them. Sunrises are a tad more difficult.

The best thing about sunset photography is, you can then continue shooting into the night. Dusk and night time photography are among the most satisfying of subjects to capture on film. Everyday, run of the mill objects around town begin to take on a magical color and tint in the fading daylight. The lights that come on have a totally magical effect on the mind, and make even mundane subjects look very different indeed.

Here is a short webpage about sunset, sunrise and dusk photography. This short webpage serves to illustrate what I'd posted yesterday (21 Nov.2002) on the SLR Photo group. The captions are self explanatory.


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1. This was my first ever sunset photograph, shot in Goa, India, way back in 1983. Computerized mini labs were just coming in, in India, so this print is not upto much. Note the magical lights of sunset reflected in the water. It helps if you have a large body of water in the foreground. Camera: Yashica Electro 35, f11, 1/100.
2. Same location, same camera: Goa, 1983, Yashica Electro 35, f8, 1/100. The boat in the foreground adds to the magic. Try and have something in the foreground for added interest. The artists among us will fantasize on a subject like this, with a possible caption: the sun sets over the sea while the fisherfolk ready their boat for a night of feverish fishing on the high seas!

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3. So what if you do not have water in the foreground? Have something in the background instead! The sun sets over the Chandni Chowk district in the Indian capital New Delhi. Taken in Nov. 1997, camera: Olympus Superzoom 70 Point and shoot.
4. For a good sunset shot, you need to wait till the sun is sufficiently low. If you shoot when the sun is still high up in the sky, you can get interesting silhouettes such as this. The palm trees contrast with the minarets of a nearby mosque. Location: Sharjah, UAE, Camera: Olympus Mju (Stylus in the US) point and shoot. Try and use the spires/towers of nearby buildings to your advantage.

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5. Horizontal framing is generally OK for sunsets. This is a sunset over the Jumeirah Beach here in Dubai. Camera: Olympus Mju (Stylus in the US) point and shoot. Note the reflections in the water.
6. Vertical framing is also very interesting, if you want to highlight the waves and golden brown on the wet sand. Same location, same camera as #5.

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7. I have done only one sunrise in my life so far. (I never woke up in time to see the sunrise! OK, I never managed to actually go out with photography in mind at that hour). This was made way back in 1983 at a rural town called Shirur, near Poona (Pune) in India. Camera: a primitive 120 film Agfa Isoly II with guess focusing and no settings confirmation in the viewfinder.
8. Back to sunsets, don't put that camera away just yet! The half hour after sunset opens out some very interesting photo ops as well. Dusk falls over the famous Jama Masjid monument in the Indian capital New Delhi. Camera: Olympus Superzoom 70 point and shoot, Nov.1997.

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9. Dusk is the time when neon signs and things begin to light up, making everything look very different and exotic. Here is a busy street in Hong Kong readying itself for a night of feverish shopping. It was around 6-ish in the evening. Camera: Olympus IS200 (IS20 in the US) SLR, Aug. 2002.
10. If you can stand still enough, and if the neon signs are bright enough, and if you are using fast film, you can even do some hand held shots well into the night. It was around 2100 hrs when I shot this, hand held, with Kodak Ultra 400 ISO film. Location: Hong Kong, Camera: Olympus IS200 (IS20 in the US) SLR, Aug. 2002.

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11. If your camera has a 'night mode' (denoted by a crescent and a star) setting, you can shoot pictures such as this. Nikon SLRs call this slow shutter sync. What happens here is, the camera flashes first to capture the people or small objects in the foreground, (flash affects only the foreground objects, remember?) and then chooses a slow shutter speed for the background. Two things to remember: ask your people in the foreground not to move as soon as the camera flashes (it ain't done yet!), and stand perfectly still, as a long-ish exposure will follow after that flash. Camera: Olympus IS200 (IS20 in the US) SLR, Aug. 2002.
12. With fast film, you can venture even further and try straight night photography, hand held. Start with brightly floodlit objects first. Here is a fort atop a hill in Oman, shot hand held with my Minolta Maxxum/Dynax 5xi SLR, 200 ISO film, Feb. 2002.

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13. If you are feeling adventerous, or are using fast film, you can even try objects not quite as brightly lit as the fort in # 12 above. I was using 200 ISO film, such subjects are very easy to capture with 400. This is the palace of the ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos. shot hand held with my Minolta Maxxum/Dynax 5xi SLR, 200 ISO film, Feb. 2002.


So, as you see, you don't really need the latest top of line equipment to take great night pictures. Most cameras with auto pilot will do quite well, as long as you use FAST FILM and TURN THAT CONFOUNDED FLASH OFF!


For any comments, feel free to email to the SLR Photo list, or to my personal email at: or

Best wishes. Shankar