Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Sunrise – With Amy Heiden!

nikolaGuest Post, travel photography tip1 Comment

Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Sunrise  – #3 – Amy Heiden!

The May theme for our guest blog posts is sunrise, and here, Amy Heiden talks about her process for shooting sunrise and the time leading up to sunrise, otherwise known as “blue hour”


Tips On Photographing Sunrise And Blue Hour


While traveling, I spend many hours a day driving from location to location and am not often near a computer with an internet connection. I find it very important to have access to sun, moon and weather data from the car.

Before any sunrise or sunset shoot, I check Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app ( to calculate sun and moon data for a particular location. (If I’m going to be out of cell range, I will take a mobile screen shot of the location prior to arrival and save it on my mobile device for reference later.) Most often I utilize this app to ensure an on-time arrival at a sunrise location. Not only that, but I can also use TPE to ensure that the subject I’m photographing will be lit from a desired angle.

After checking the sunrise time and glancing at weather, I’m ready to drive to a location and shoot!
In the images below, I hiked up to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, with enough time to prepare my equipment and pick a composition, but in this case it was still dark, so I needed to take a test shot to check exposure and focus. To do this, I took a 10 second exposure at ISO to 3200. (Depending on the histogram I will add or subtract exposure time and continue testing until I achieve the desired exposure.) For this image, I liked the exposure at 10 seconds and ISO 3200, so I calculated out what exposure I needed to take the shot at ISO 200. To do this, I reduced my ISO by one stop at a time (divided it in half) from 3200 down to 200. I start at 3200, reduced to 1600, 800, 400 and 200. In this example, I adjusted my ISO 4 times (4 stops) and now I want to calculate the exposure time, so I will add 4 stops (double each time) to the exposure. I start at 10 seconds, double to 20 seconds, 40 seconds, 80 seconds, and 160 seconds. After adjusting my ISO and exposure by 4 stops each, I determined at ISO 200, my exposure will be 160 seconds. Once those settings are adjusted in the camera, I am ready to shoot.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Sunrise and Blue Hour with Amy Heiden | A Guest Post for The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!


I knew wanted to capture the scene on the left during twilight, or “blue hour”, which occurs approximately 30-45 minutes before sunrise and gives everything a very blue hue. During this time the colors of the subject will appear less saturated and the shadows much darker.  The image on the right was taken on another day from the same location. I anticipated that the abundance of clouds would lens to a nice color, so I had to wait 30 minutes from arrival to try getting the shot I wanted. Here, you see the sunlight bouncing off the clouds and the colors of the orange and yellow rock formations beginning to show. As you can see, both images evoke different a different feel based on the light and colors.

But what happens when I’m traveling and hit a snag on the way to shoot sunrise and don’t make it to a spot by blue hour, but I still really want a long exposure or a blue cast? I certainly could adjust the white balance of the image in post, but creating a long exposure effect after the fact wouldn’t be as easy. Instead, I would use a Neutral Density, or ND, filter. This filter allow me to slow down exposure time or aperture to gain a motion effect or to add a specific tint to an image.

Though the two images below were shot within 4 minutes of one another, for the exposure on the left I used a Lee Big Stopper, a 10-stop ND with an inherent blue tint, to capture the look of ‘blue hour’ and get a longer exposure to smooth the slight motion in the clouds. Similar to blue hour, while using the Big Stopper, the dunes lost their saturated orange and the shadows were dark. Alternatively, the image on the right was a short exposure taken without a filter a few seconds after the sun broke the ridge, creating a higher contrast and warmer tones.



If you have not yet shot ‘blue hour’, next time you plan a sunrise shoot, try arriving 30 minutes early and get a few twilight shots to compare against sunrise and see which results you like best. If you enjoy the blue hour images, the Lee Big Stopper can give you similar results.

Amy Heiden:

Amy Heiden is an explorer and photographer with a lust for adventure. For the last five years, her focus has been centered around the documentation of abandoned asylums, factories, houses of worship, military sites and ships before they are destroyed and their stories long forgotten.

In addition, Amy frequently travels in search of landscapes and cityscapes in places like the Eastern Sierras, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, New York and her hometown of San Francisco.




  • garybirtles14

    These are some beautiful examples. It really is worth getting up early to capture shots like these. I hate shooting during the middle of the day because the light is so harsh. The morning light is perfect. It is just hard to have the drive to get up early sometimes. <a href=’’ ></a&gt;