Planning a sunrise or sunset photo – there’s more than one twilight

When you’re planning to be at a nice pretty location and you only have one morning that you can get up and take a photo of the sunrise, what is the best time to take the photo and where should you take it from?

Technically speaking, photography is all about light, how it hits the sensor and getting that level of light just right. The secondary part is making it interesting.

When it comes to landscape photography, the key is combining those two elements together and really the biggest part of getting a great picture, is in the timing. Specifically, the timing of the day.

There are three elements that you need to consider when planning your shot, location, direction and time.

Location and Direction

Location and direction tend to go hand in hand depending on what your subject is. If your subject is the sky, then it doesn’t matter as much what you’re location is but the more likely scenario is that there is something in the context of that sky.

If the subject is a lighthouse, then you’re either shooting into the sun because the sunrise is a part of the picture, or you’re shooting with the sun behind you to get the glow on the lighthouse. In which case it will matter what side of the lighthouse you’re on.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 15.23.52.png shows my position of the sun at a set time

In the image above, my options are to be on the beach, centred in this screenshot, where I’ll get the sun rising behind the lighthouse or alternatively, I could be close to the lighthouse to the north of it and get the glow of the sunrise on it.

I’ve used, highly recommend it.

Two very different shots but there is no way I can get both at the same time, so by planning this I can decide which one is more important.

In the three examples below, the first on the sun setting in the context of the photo whereas the following photo is more about the subject rather than the sunset, so it was more important to have the sun behind the camera.

The third photo has the sun to the right, camera pointing to the north so I end up with higher contrast with the glow and light of the sun on one side of each object and a shadow on the other which creates a feeling of warmth.

Shooting into the sunset
Shooting away from the sunset
Pointing north, 90 degrees to the sunrise on the right.


There is more than one twilight, I’m not talking about sequels of a teenage movie, I’m talking instead about something that’s actually interesting, which is when to take your photo.


Likely you’ve heard of Golden Hour and may have also have heard of Blue Hour and these refer to the colour of the sky in relation to the sunrise or sunset. The colour is determined by the angle of the sun in relation to your position on the planet.

There is a lot of reading you can do on this by far smarter people than me but the basics are, if you want cold and blue, you’re after Astra to Nautical Twilight but if you’re after warm and golden, then you’re after the tail end of Nautical Twilight and into Civil Twilight.

‘Hour’ is a very loose terminology and the whole sunrise might take an hour but each phase is much shorter so you really need to check with something like to get the right time. It depends on basically where you are and what time of the year it is.

Below is an example from Sydney so you can see that if I want that cool temperature feel in your photo, then I need to get the shot from about 5:30 onward. This is where I’m going to start seeing fewer stars in the sky and starting to see the horizon.

If I’m after the warm and fuzzy shot, then I don’t need to get out of bed for another hour and my best time will be around 6:20.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 11.34.10.png shows my twilight timings

So with my combination of where I want to be, what direction I want to face and what time I need to be there, I can get the perfect picture. Well, I can try to anyway.

If you found this interesting, please check out and follow me on Instagram or YouTube.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s