Sunrise or Sunset for Landscape Photography?

Winnats Pass at sunrise by Robert Bishop

If you’re a landscape photographer, you probably already know that the best time to get out and shoot is during golden hour – the hour just after and just before the sun rises and sets. This is the time when the sun is low in the sky, lighting up our scene with warm, soft light and often creating spectacular colours in the sky.

As we move into the summer months, days become longer and waking up early to get out for some sunrise landscape photography can become more difficult! So should we just forget about sunrise during summer and concentrate on sunsets? Is there a difference between golden hour in the morning and in the evening? Here are my thoughts on sunrise vs sunset for landscape photography.

Why Are Sunrises Better for Landscape Photography?

One of the main benefits of getting up when it’s dark and trekking out to your location is that there will be fewer people around. Most people don’t want a 4am start and a walk up a mountain in the dark, so a lot of the time you’ll have your location all to yourself. This is particularly helpful at popular or touristy spots. If you’ve got a really early start and there isn’t much moonlight, a head torch can be handy to light up the way while keeping your hands free.

Another benefit of getting your shot in the morning is that there is more chance of fog and mist. This can add a lot of atmosphere to your photos and take an image from good to great!

Remember, some locations have to be shot at sunrise in order to get the optimal direction of light. The sun always rises in the east, so make sure you plan ahead to find out what direction the sunlight will be landing on your scene. Apps like PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris can help with this.

Why Are Sunsets Better for Landscape Photography?

Getting your shot later in the day can be better when you need to scout out your location first, or if you have a big hike to get there. Don’t forget though, you will need to return in the dark, so either plan to camp at your destination, or make sure you have a torch and enough warm clothing and food/drink for your return journey. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you’re going.

If you’re facing west to get your photo, sunset will often be better than sunrise. Again, plan ahead and check the exact direction of the sun at the time you want to get your shot.

Finally, you can have a bit longer in bed!

Try to Keep a Good Balance

Good light is a fundamental part of landscape photography and a scene will look different in the morning compared to evening and at different times of the year. Personally I recommend mixing it up and capturing your photo at both sunrise and sunset throughout the year. You can learn a lot about a location by seeing it in different light and this will help you to perfect your image.

Of course it’s more difficult to wake up early, and if you really need the sleep, this might make sunset the right time for you. I always find sunrises more rewarding though, and once I’ve made that effort to get up and out, I’m usually more motivated to get my shot.

It’s also much easier to make a video when I have a location to myself! Here are a couple of videos; one at sunrise and one at sunset.

Video captured at sunrise
Video captured at sunset

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