Anyone who wishes to photograph sunrises or sunsets must take care not to stare at the sun as it can cause permanent damage to the eyes. Never look at the sun with the naked eye either directly or through a viewfinder or lens. Even cameras can be damaged if pointed directly at the sun. A telephoto lens concentrates the already powerful rays of light which may cause burning of a cameras delicate interior. It is essential to line up the camera and lens directed slightly away from the sun itself, and then redirect the camera when everything is ready for the shot.
The first consideration when embarking on work of this type is to establish the time of sunrise or sunset in the appropriate location. Sunrise and sunset calculators can help photographers determine the appropriate times and are included on this website for this reason. A second consideration is of course the weather and, in particular, the amount of cloud cover. Every sunrise and sunset is different because the position of clouds can change the scene from moment to moment. However, it is worth checking the local weather forecast. Once again, this can be done from the environmental menu of this website. In general, completely cloudless events are likely to be disappointing as the colours will be very limited in hue and extent. Total cloud cover can also be ruin the occasion, but beware. Landscape photographers all have stories about getting up before dawn to be greeted by thick, dark clouds which later open in some spectacular manner. This is nature at work, and when it happens it may produce truly spectacular moments. Light clouds, low fog or haze can also produce wonderful effects. Some experts claim that the best sunsets occur with mid-level cloud such as alto-stratus or alto-cumulus. These produce deep red sunsets whereas cirrus cloud tends to turn yellowish or orange or yellow.
Armed with time and weather information, arrive on location reasonably early. This allows time to explore the immediate environment and select a good location in which to situate the camera. In many cases it will be worthwhile incorporating an earth-bound object in the image. This might be some element of the landscape such as a hill or tree, or a silhouette of a building, person or object with strong and recognizable shape. This provides context and also indicates to the viewer the environment in which the photographer was situated. Without an-earth-bound object in the viewfinder, the image tends to lose contact with reality. Was it taken from the window of an aircraft. Where in the sky was the sun located at the time?
Focus and depth of field are also key considerations. There can be no doubt that the sun is situated at infinity - a distance from Earth of 93 million miles! It is therefore possible to set the lens to infinity and lock it. However, the inclusion of a nearer object in the composition may imply the need for maximum depth of field and therefore use of hyperfocal focusing. A large depth of field may be desirable even if it proves impossible to render everything in an image sharp. Used creatively, control of depth of field can change an image in very significant ways.Such control can also be used to create several quite different images using precisely the same composition.
Light-metering and exposure are perhaps the final considerations prior to making an exposure. The light changes constantly and quite rapidly around these times of day so it is important to keep making adjustments. Take a reading from the camera's meter based upon an area of sky close to, but not including, the sun itself. Then recompose the shot and try a number of exposures either side of the measured value. The result will be that some foreground detail will be recorded but the sun itself will be rendered very bright. If a meter reading was taken with the sun in the viewfinder, everything else in the image would be rendered almost black. Another approach, when foreground detail is within a few yards of the camera, is to use flash to lighten foreground detail and also under expose the sky to enhance the colours. Long shutter speeds and very small apertures (such as one second at f/8) with the camera firmly fixed to a stable tripod, can be used to maximize depth of field and provide additional creative effects such as smooth, flowing water in a river or on the sea shore. Don't forget to use a remote release to avoid moving the camera during the exposure period.