It’s hard being a photographer in the mountains

If you’re a photographer that loves to take sunrise and sunset photos, there’s no better place than to take them with powerful mountains and serene water as a backdrop. That’s what I loved doing during my brief stay in Banff and Jasper, Alberta. The scenery is so majestic and serene you really can’t take a bad photograph there.

As a photographer who loves the sun, my goal was to try and take as many sunrises and sunsets as I could. While I knew I couldn’t do this on a daily basis, I certainly tried as many times as I could.

Lake Minnewanka sunrise.

Lake Minnewanka sunrise. iPhone 6 Plus long exposure.

What I didn’t know until shortly before heading over there, was that the summer days are very long. The sun rises at 5:30am and doesn’t set below the horizon until at least 10pm. Even at 11pm, you still get that gorgeous blue hue in the sky. This is great if you love spending the days outdoors—which is what I did—but after a full day of hiking, you really do want to get some rest.

It was difficult at times, but I did do my fair share of sunrise and sunset shoots while in Alberta—sometimes waking up as early as 4:30am to drive to a lake. I can’t say that I came back with something dramatic and eye-opening as the weather didn’t cooperate with me most days, but I did enjoy being out there in the fresh air early in the morning. It is rather calming. Those days when I did both a sunset shoot and sunrise shoot the next day were pretty tiring to say the least. But the joy of being able to see this is what motivates me to get up so early and stay up so late.

Alpenglow on Mt. Rundle, Vermillion Lake 2, Banff National Park

Alpenglow on Mt. Rundle, Vermillion Lake 2, Banff National Park. iPhone 6 Plus.

As a bonus, a lot of the wildlife tend to be out during the wee hours of the morning and late at night. Those were the times when I got to see the mule deers, long horn sheep, bears, and more. It was an exciting drive to see animals popping up unexpectedly on the side of the road. You have to be extra cautious at this time too since the low-light may make it harder for you to see the wildlife.

Had I been living in the area though, this would be a whole different story as I would be able to take my time and spread out my sunrise and sunset shoots. With my limited stay of 10 days, I was eager than ever to get a great show of lights.

I wasn’t able to get one this time, but perhaps this means I’ll just have to go back at another time!

Silhouette by the sunset

When you’re faced with taking a photo against the sun, you’re subjects will no doubt be in the shadows. If you can’t do a whole lot with where the sun is in your frame, work with it until you get a pleasing image.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 400, 24mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 400, 24mm

I intentionally took this photo so that the foreground would be in the shadows while the sailboats would be somewhat lit up from what was remaining of the sunlight.

The sailboats turned out a little darker than I had wanted to in the original image, so I did end up brightening the area up a little in Lightroom. But this is the image that I was envisioning in my head, so I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I do like the details of the foreground that are lit up by the water in the background, in addition to the wispy clouds contrasting against the gorgeous blue and orange colours. It was a dreamy sunset, which made me happy I made the effort to get out this evening!

The sun shines in Ikebukuro

I was out shopping one fine early evening in Tokyo when I came to this roadway with people walking down it. Normally it would have been just a regular pedestrian-filled road, but I soon realized the sun peeking out of the clouds every-so-often, shining its glorious rays right down the centre of the street. The golden light it emitted when it did shine down the street was magnificent.

I only had a few short minutes to try and capture this golden light because the clouds would cover the sun after a short time. It was just one of those days where I was happy I had my camera with me that day.

Nikon D800, 1/4000 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400, 56mm

Nikon D800, 1/4000 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400, 56mm

What do you bring on your walks?

When I go out travelling, I often like to take my full gear with me because you never know what to expect. Even on casual walking days like when I took this photo above, I always loved to carry my Nikon along with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at a minimum. This combination, however, isn’t always so portable, let alone light on my shoulders.

With the advent of mirrorless cameras though, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a better option for me to take on these casual walks. It’s something to consider one of these days.

What camera do you bring on your photo-walks? What lenses do you like to use? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to suggest any great walk-around cameras that you like.

How to take photos of sunrises and sunsets

Sunrises and Sunsets

Sunrises and sunsets are one of the most favourite times of the day to photograph for many landscape photographers. The colours are warm and golden, the quality of light is just right, and really, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the first light or the last light of the day pass the horizon. Taking photos during this time is not very difficult, but there are a few things you should consider when doing so. This post will give you some tips on how to shoot that glorious sunrise or sunset.

How to take photos of sunrises and sunsets

How to take photos of sunrises and sunsets

Suggested Gear

I’ve listed my gear suggestions for shooting a sunrise or sunset below. While not all of these are requirements, each one serves a purpose and should be considered. I’ll explain each one in detail further below.

  1. Camera with RAW capture capabilities
  2. Tripod
  3. Shutter release cable
  4. Variety of lenses to meet your creative needs (bringing both a wide and a telephoto lens is ideal)

Shooting Tips

1. Always plan ahead

Sunrises and sunsets don’t last forever. In fact, the light changes so fast during this time that it’s crucial that you know what you’re doing if you don’t want to miss that golden moment. Planning ahead of time will always prepare you for the least expected and that’s always a good thing. Scout the location of your shoot well before your shoot. This will give you a good idea on composition and what’s around the area. If you want to find out exactly where the sun will rise or set on any particular day, there are several apps that will tell you this: Photopills, The Photographer’s Ephimeris, and more.

Selecting the exact point for a photoshoot

Selecting the exact point for a photoshoot using The Photographer’s Ephemeris

2. Focus

It’s important to keep your subject matter crisp, especially during this low-light period. If you have your camera set to automatically focus within a designated area of your frame, make sure to turn that function off and switch it to auto-focus single. This will make your camera focus on one specific area within your frame, wherever you choose it to be. This is much better than having the camera choose the focus point for you.

Your camera may have a hard time focusing if there’s not enough contrast within your frame. If this happens, switch to manual mode and focus yourself. Or, use Live View mode to see if you can pinpoint the focus that way.

3. Change your white balance from auto

If you have your camera set to Auto White Balance, take it off, and set it to something else so you can control how the image looks, and not rely on your camera. If you shoot in JPG, you won’t be able to change this afterwards, so it’s even more important for you to change this before shooting. For RAW shooters, you can change this after in post, but why do that when you can start off with the right white-balance mode? Typically for sunrises and sunsets, I like to use the Daylight mode. This gives the right amount of warmth to my images. If you really want to warm things up, try changing it to Shade or Cloudy. Experiment to your liking.

4. Speed up your camera

Cameras have many advanced features that are great for certain purposes. However, sometimes these settings can slow your camera from processing these files. For example, if you like to take long exposures, you may have the Long Exposure Noise Reduction setting turned on. This will increase the amount of time needed to process each shot, preventing you from taking the next one. Turn this feature off.

5. Use a tripod

I always use my tripod during sunrise and sunset shoots. It stabilizes my camera and helps me get sharp images. The period surrounding sunrises and sunsets are quite dim so a tripod is highly recommended, especially if you’re going to use a telephoto lens.

Using a tripod for both my Nikon and my iPhone when taking a sunrise photo

Using a tripod for both my Nikon and my iPhone when taking a sunrise photo

6. Use a shutter-release cable

A shutter release cable hooks into your camera’s 10-pin connector if you have one. This is a separate cable that allows you to release the shutter without having you press down on the shutter button itself, further eliminating any blurriness in your photos from camera shake. It’s not a necessity, but it does help in many cases.

Composition Tips

1. Horizon placement

You can refer to my previous post here on the difference your placement of the horizon makes on your photos. It does make a big difference so get to know when you want to place the horizon in certain areas of your picture.

As a summary:

  • Placing the horizon on the top 1/3 of your picture will evoke a sense of intimacy with your subject matter as the foreground takes precedence in your frame.
  • Placing the horizon in the centre of the picture works well when done right, giving a sense of symmetry and balance.
  • Placing the horizon in the bottom 1/3 of your picture will give a sense of vastness and emptiness as you fill the frame with the sky and clouds.

2. Change focal lengths

While changing lenses during your sunrise and sunset shots may take you away from taking photos for that moment, it’s worth experimenting with various focal lengths to get a little variety in your photos. I have a number of lenses in my collection, but the two I always use are the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 24-70 f/2.8, with the 14-24mm f/2.8 coming in a close third.

Using a wide angle lens on the left gives a different feel than using a telephoto lens, as seen on the right.

Using a wide angle lens on the left gives a different feel than using a telephoto lens, as seen on the right.

Taking a wide shot gives a great view of the entire scene letting the viewers see the effects of the sun within the rest of your photo. In contrast, zooming in on the subject gives you more details so you can fully appreciate the sunlight shining on your subject. Or, if you zoom in right on the sun, that will also make for some dramatic imagery. Just be careful not to stare at it for too long!

Exposure Tips

I once read that during a sunrise and sunset shoot, there is never really a “correct” exposure. What the person meant by this is that many different exposures can work during this time—it all just depends on what you want to evoke from your image.

1. Silhouettes

A common thing to do is to make your subjects a silhouette with the glorious colours in the backdrop taking centre stage. Expose for the brighter areas of your image to get this effect.

Nikon D200, 200mm, 1/500 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100

Nikon D200, 200mm, 1/500 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100

2. Don’t expose directly into the sun

If you set your exposure directly to the sun, you’ll get an image with lots of dark shadow areas, and the ball of sun, a muddy gray colour. We all know the sun is a big bright ball of light so having this as the brightest part of your final image is reasonably acceptable in most cases. Instead, expose somewhere just slightly darker than the brightest part of the sun so the shadows don’t get too dark and the highlights aren’t all blown away.

3. Bracket your shots

Use your bracketing mode to automatically create different exposures. If you let the camera decide the best exposure, use your bracketing mode to create another image 1 stop under-exposed or 1 stop over-exposed. It’s a quick way to get three different types of images without fiddling with your settings so much.


There may be a lot of information here, but if you take things one step at a time and think through your shots, you’ll learn to quickly adapt accordingly and things like horizon placements and exposures will come naturally.

Do you have any additional tips you can add for taking sunrise and sunset photos? Let me know in the comments below!

Taku’s Top 5 Winter Photography Favourites

As of 6:45pm, March 20, winter is officially over, however it may not feel like it with the current cold front passing by our city this week. To recap this wonderful season that offered a number of prime photo opportunities, I’ve rounded my top five favourite photos that I took with my Nikon over this winter season.

If you’ve been following my blog throughout the winter, or are following me on Instagram @smaku or @theSmaku, then you may have noticed some of these photos pop up there. I’m also uploading select photos on my Flickr account as well.

Number 5

This photo was taken in early December when Christmas lights were just being turned on, and everybody was getting into the festive spirit. On my way home from the Christmas Market, I took a quick detour to City Hall to see what was happening. The semi-long exposure of 0.8 seconds made some skaters a blur, while those who stood still remained in focus. All lights were on, and I made sure to include the city’s Christmas tree in this frame too. I opted to include that spotlight on the top left, to add some more excitement to the top half of this frame. I just can’t help but feel a little festive whenever I see this.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who liked this photo as city councillor Norm Kelly liked it enough to retweet it to everybody.

0.8 sec. at f/20, ISO 800, 24mm

0.8 sec. at f/20, ISO 800, 24mm

 Number 4

This one was taken on the same day as number 5! Visiting the Distillery District Christmas Market for the first time, I wanted to really capture the festive spirit and business of the event. I had to prop my tripod right in the middle of the walkway, getting my camera high enough above everybody’s heads to really capture this mood. I think it turned out rather nice; you can feel the warmth from the halogen Christmas lights. Since this was a long exposure, by chance, I happened to capture three flashed coming from different places. As an added bonus, I loved how this one person in the crowd stood still enough so that I could capture her on her phone, perhaps Instagramming all of this!

Three flashes a charm?

Three flashes a charm?

Number 3

This winter had no shortages of sunrise shoots. While some of them were a little lacklustre, others proved to be very rewarding. This day was one of them when the colours were so vibrant it really made you second guess what was happening here. This 6 second long exposure created a different texture to Lake Ontario, further adding to that special morning glow that you can only get with a sunrise.

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/14, 6.0 sec., ISO 100, B+W 6-stop ND filter

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/14, 6.0 sec., ISO 100, B+W 6-stop ND filter

Number 2

Surprisingly, one of my favourites of the season is not even a colour photo! I really like the tone of this with its faded shadows. The intricate details of the plants in the foreground silhouetted against the brightly lit waters of the background make this for me. That ball of sun right in the middle also makes this a special moment that you know it wasn’t taken any time during the day.

Nikon D800, 1/20sec., f/9.0, ISO100, 70mm

Nikon D800, 1/20sec., f/9.0, ISO100, 70mm

Number 1B

This one would have to be my favourite photo taken with the full sun in the frame. The patchy fog on top of Lake Ontario really makes you feel the frigidness of that morning. I was lucky those colours were so vibrant that day as well. It was an absolutely beautiful morning and one that I definitely didn’t want to spend in bed!

Nikon D800, 1/6 sec., ISO 100, f/9.0, 24mm, +2/3 EV

Nikon D800, 1/6 sec., ISO 100, f/9.0, 24mm, +2/3 EV

Number 1A

This would be my favourite landscape photo where you can see the city within the frame. That morning was almost a bust since the clouds were so thick near the horizon. I really didn’t think I would get any colour out of Mother Nature. But as I waited a little more, the clouds broke open ever so slightly, allowing some magical morning light to come through. That red on the side was out of this world, so to speak. It’s mornings like this that really make waking up so early worthwhile.

Nikon D800, 24mm, f/8.0, ISO 100, 30 sec., 6-stop ND filter

Nikon D800, 24mm, f/8.0, ISO 100, 30 sec., 6-stop ND filter

Those are my top 5 favourite winter photos for 2014. I hope you enjoyed them! I believe Both #1 photos I hadn’t even posted anywhere so this may very well be the first time you’ve seen them! Just another reason for you all to keep following me on my blog. 🙂

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Have you been out to take photos this winter season? Where was your favourite one taken? Let me know in the comments below.