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Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light

Lesson 67 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light

Lesson 67 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

67. Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is the fundamentals of photography during twilight, specifically focusing on sunrise and sunset.


  1. Why is shooting at sunrise and sunset interesting for photographers?

    Shooting at sunrise and sunset is interesting because there are dramatic changes in lighting from minute to minute, providing different opportunities for capturing images.

  2. What are some advantages of shooting at sunrise and sunset?

    Shooting at sunrise and sunset provides good colors, low range of brightness, and the ability to capture both the sun and objects in the shadows.

  3. What are some disadvantages of shooting at sunrise and sunset?

    Some disadvantages include the inconvenience of being on location early in the morning, the unpredictability of lighting conditions, and the need for a tripod due to low light levels.

  4. How can photographers prepare for shooting at sunrise and sunset?

    Photographers should know the times of sunrise and sunset, where the sun will be positioned, and should scout the location if possible.

  5. What are the different stages of lighting during sunrise and sunset?

    The stages include the blue zone, cloud light, and first light.

  6. How can photographers capture the best images during twilight?

    Photographers can capture the best images by choosing the right time to shoot, using a tripod for stability in low light, and looking for objects with distinctive shapes to create silhouettes or contrast against the sky.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Photographic Characteristics


Camera Types


Viewing System


Lens System


Shutter System


Shutter Speed Basics


Shutter Speed Effects


Camera & Lens Stabilization


Quiz: Shutter Speeds


Camera Settings Overview


Drive Mode & Buffer


Camera Settings - Details


Sensor Size: Basics


Sensor Sizes: Compared


The Sensor - Pixels


Sensor Size - ISO


Focal Length


Angle of View


Practicing Angle of View


Quiz: Focal Length


Fisheye Lens


Tilt & Shift Lens


Subject Zone


Lens Speed




Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Apertures


Lens Quality


Light Meter Basics




Quiz: Histogram


Dynamic Range


Exposure Modes


Sunny 16 Rule


Exposure Bracketing


Exposure Values


Quiz: Exposure


Focusing Basics


Auto Focus (AF)


Focus Points


Focus Tracking


Focusing Q&A


Manual Focus


Digital Focus Assistance


Shutter Speeds & Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Depth of Field


DOF Preview & Focusing Screens


Lens Sharpness


Camera Movement


Advanced Techniques


Quiz: Hyperfocal Distance


Auto Focus Calibration


Focus Stacking


Quiz: Focus Problems


Camera Accessories


Lens Accessories


Lens Adaptors & Cleaning




Flash & Lighting






Being a Photographer


Natural Light: Direct Sunlight


Natural Light: Indirect Sunlight


Natural Light: Mixed


Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Cloud & Color Pop: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Silhouette & Starburst: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Golden Hour: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Quiz: Lighting


Light Management


Flash Fundamentals




Built-In & Add-On Flash


Off-Camera Flash


Off-Camera Flash For Portraits


Advanced Flash Techniques


Editing Assessments & Goals


Editing Set-Up


Importing Images


Organizing Your Images


Culling Images


Categories of Development


Adjusting Exposure


Remove Distractions


Cropping Your Images


Composition Basics


Point of View


Angle of View


Subject Placement


Framing Your Shot


Foreground & Background & Scale


Rule of Odds


Bad Composition


Multi-Shot Techniques


Pixel Shift, Time Lapse, Selective Cloning & Noise Reduction


Human Vision vs The Camera


Visual Perception


Quiz: Visual Balance


Visual Drama


Elements of Design


Texture & Negative Space


Black & White & Color


The Photographic Process


Working the Shot


What Makes a Great Photograph?


Lesson Info

Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light

Alright, let's talk about sunrise and sunset because photographers are known to shoot at those times, and I've done a fair bit of time in this area. I might have put in my 10,000 hours here. (laughs) And so there's a lot going on, and so this section actually is a little bit longer than the others. And so obviously shooting at sunrise and sunset is very interesting for a lot of good reasons. There are dramatic changes from minute to minute, and what you might be shooting one minute is gonna be completely different in five minutes, and so it's fun for me because it's challenging. There's so many different possibilities, depending on where you are. You get really good colors, and we always like good colors in photographs for the most part. The low range of brightness makes things very easy to deal with, the fact that it's not too bright, you get to have the actual sun in the photograph, but you can still show things in the shadows, and there is just so much to shoot. It's not just the su...

n coming up and down, but the side light situation and then what the sun is illuminating itself. There can be so many different things to work with. There's a lot of disadvantages. Shooting sunrise is very inconvenient for most people. You gotta be on location and you gotta be ready to go, and I'm talking a little bit maybe more with landscape photography in this particular case here, and camping's okay, I like camping, I like my nice bed, but you know, I like to be as close to the action as possible, and so I have no problems going out and camping if it puts me right where I want to be. It's definitely unpredictable, and you know, I really, I don't like investing in stocks that I have no idea where they're going, but when you decide to go shoot a sunrise and you wake up at 4:30 in the morning, you are investing in something that you have no idea if it has any return at all. 'Cause I've done my share of early wake ups, lots of effort, and it just didn't play out, and you just gotta play the game, and you just gotta put your time in. Eventually you'll get your due, but it doesn't always happen. Light levels are a little bit low, which means you gotta bring your tripod with you, and things happen really quickly, and I have found that I try to make a plan. This particular photograph comes from the Great Sand Dunes, I don't know if it's a national park or if it's still, I think it's the national park in Colorado now. I was tryin' to wonder if it was a preserve area, but I think it's now made it to national park status. And I went out hiking at sunset, and it was kind of a cloudy day, it didn't look great, but hey, I was there to shoot, I'm gonna shoot whatever I can. And I remember sittin' around on the dunes for an hour and a half, I had nothin' to shoot, I felt like, it's not gonna do me any good to walk around anymore, I'm in the right spot, I'm just gonna have to wait for something to happen, and then the colors in the sky started turning on and it felt like it just crept up on me, and suddenly it's right now, and it's like, okay I gotta find something in the foreground. What's the most interesting thing I can find in the foreground, and this little puff of grass is the only thing I can find in the foreground to shoot. But okay, it'll be the hero in this particular shot. (audience laughs) And so it's kind of fun because there's a lot going on and what you can make of that is totally up to you. You are unlimited in how much success you can have in that moment in time, and there's nothing holding you back in many ways. And I find that very exhilarating to do. And so, obviously know the times, what time are you expecting sunrise and sunset, know where the sun is, scout the location if you can. It's, the worst thing is trying to go to a sunrise location that you've never been to, 'cause you're getting there in the dark, and you're like, well can we park here? What if it's over here? What's over here? And so it's really good if you can get there in the afternoon to shoot sunset, or you get there in the afternoon to shoot sunset and sunrise the next morning. I know there's a number of times where I'll go to a location at sunset, and I'm like, you know what? I'm comin' straight back at sunrise, 'cause I'm gonna get something completely different and I know my way around and I can know where the sun's gonna be in that particular location. Alright, so we will try to get a little nerdy here, and I'm gonna graph some things to show you how light works in many different regards, because having shot through my fair share of sunrises and sunsets, it's been moments of really, really good shooting, and then okay, it's not so good now, oh wait, wait, wait, it's getting good again, it's getting good again, and okay, wait, wait, no, not good anymore. Oh wait, what's going on over here? Oh it's getting good again! (laughs) And there's been kind of a pattern to it and I've been takin' a while to try to figure out what's exactly going on. And so, it depends on the type of day that you're having. So we're gonna take our example at sunrise, it's the same at sunset, just in reverse. At first you get this blue zone, and then it kind of gets bad again, and then you get to an area of cloud light, if you have clouds in the right areas at the right place, and then at actual sunrise, you'll get your first light. And so there are these three different stages that you will hit upon, depending on the lighting conditions. And so let me graph this out for ya in a different way here, okay? So you're gonna go out photographing, and you're shooting sunrise, and it's dark out, so the stars are all out. And you wanna shoot a mountain, okay? So you're out there at oh dark 30, and you're gonna start to notice that there's gonna be a little bit of blue in the sky, a little bit of twilight coming on in the sky ahead of you, and this is kind of the time to start shooting. That's time time for ending all of your star shots and your nighttime shots, and so this not the best time to shoot quite yet, but as that sun is starting to come up over the horizon, it's gonna really start to illuminate the sky with this beautiful blue. It's one of my favorite blues, 'cause there's a nice little transition there, and this is a beautiful blue zone for shooting as a background, especially as a silhouette with trees and mountains and things like that. And this is a great time to be out shooting city shots, we'll see some more examples of blue zone type shots. And so this is a good time to be shooting. Now as the sun starts to get up a little bit higher, it's gonna illuminate the sky and make it a little bit brighter and it's gonna be awkwardly bright and not look so good, unless there are some clouds, not too many clouds, some clouds, alright? And they need to be positioned such that the sunlight can illuminate the bottom side of those clouds, alright? Now you'll rarely ever get twilight and this cloud light in the same morning, because they're kind of opposite of each other in the weather conditions, and this is probably when some of the most spectacular photographs will be taken, when the sun is still below the horizon, but they're illuminating the clouds. And one of the things that I didn't really think about, or I didn't really see as much until I've done this enough is that if these clouds are illuminated by a lot of good light, it's not just that the clouds look good, it's that they're illuminating the landscape with light and they change it into a light unlike what we see 99.999% of the time. We recognize the landscape, but it's of a different light, and we know that it's a unique and special moment when that happens. Now as the sun gets up higher and higher, eventually it's gonna reach over the top of the horizon and your subject's gonna get illuminated, and that's gonna be essentially the weakest direct sunlight that that subject receives, which is good, because then you're gonna be able to see into the shadows and it's gonna have the lowest contrast levels. And so that first light is a good time to photograph something if you are wanting direct sunlight on that subject, whether it's a car, a building, or a person, is those very last, or in this case, the first five minutes of light in some case. And so let's take a look at some of those photos from the different eras of this. So first off, we have twilight, and so we have stars visible in this case, this was one of my favorite shots from Madagascar. I was doing a night shot, and well it wasn't totally a night shot, we were still getting some blue in the western sky, and then as I was doing this 30 second exposure, somebody drove their car down the road and I thought they ruined the photo, and then I saw how it looked like they're weaving through the trees actually looks really nice and added a nice little lighting effect that I was not anticipating, that we'll call it the happy accident that worked out really well. Now I see a number of photographers call this the blue hour, and they're lying to you, it never lasts an hour. When I shoot with this, I might be a little bit picky, but I think the good blue light lasts for about five minutes. You can kind of push it on the extremes and get it to work for about a half an hour, but when it's really at just the right intensity and the right saturation, is really about five minutes, where it's gonna look at its very best. And so you do get this fantastic color that I think is really nice, it's great for silhouettes, and so you have to think about what could create a silhouette? So when I was down in the redwoods, I wasn't thinking about silhouettes because it's too crowded, you're not gonna get that effect. And one of the nice things is if it's a bluebird sunny day, you know you're gonna get this. This is something that you can bank money on. If it's clear out, you're gonna get a nice blue sky, unless I don't know, there's a forest fire or some other sort of dust in the environment. It's something that you can really guarantee, and they do make for some very nice, powerful images. And so these work very well with natural things, they work well in cities, and with buildings, and lights quite well. It is a very brief time, and so you do have to prepare, there's not a lot that you can do in that time. You can't run all over the city getting five different shots in different locations, you're gonna have to pick one location and really work with it. Absolutely you're gonna be needing a tripod, this is gonna be low light stuff. These are oftentimes 30 second, 10 second, at least one second exposures, depending on what aperture you're working with. And I am trying to stay at ISO 100, I want the image quality to be as good as possible, so I'll keep it as low as possible there. And you also need a very open environment, and so if you're dealing with, let's say Yosemite Valley, you've got these big valley walls there, you don't see much sky. It's not gonna work out there very well at all. Death Valley, okay, that's a nice, big open environment. So you really have to think, is this gonna work in that type of environment? Alright, so we're looking for objects with distinctive shapes that are gonna show up against a skyline. It depends a little bit on where you are on the planet, because the sun has different angles that it sets and rises at, so around 15 minutes to an hour before sunrise, and if you think you need to be on location 60 minutes before sunrise, calculate what time you actually have to get up in the morning, that should calculate what time you need to go to bed the evening before so that you can at least get up and do that. You will tend to need to underexpose these images, so they're not gonna have the exposure meter in the middle, it's gonna be over to the minus side, maybe minus one exposure, something in that range there. These generally tend to be a little bit on the darker side of photographs, and this is also really good for shooting city scapes. I'm gonna show you some more examples and charts of shooting city scapes in this case. And so Monument Valley. In the morning there's no clouds, this is not gonna be a good day for shooting at Monument Valley, because it's just pure blue sky, and you want some clouds there. But at this time right now, that blue sky, especially that gradient works very well with those distinctive shapes of the mittens there as they are known. In Morocco, having our distinctive shapes, went out for a camel ride out there. Had him take the camel up to the top of the ridge and just stand there for a moment. Great time to be shooting city scapes here, and part of this has to do with the fact that this is illuminated by artificial light, these are tungsten lights, which are orange, and as we'll talk more about when we get to colors, orange and blue are kind of a really good, friendly combination of colors. Did you know colors have best friends? And they work really well together, and orange and blue are like best friends when it comes to color. And we have blue skies, we have orange lights, and so we get them in many, many different locations. So it's a combination that works well over and over and over again. So this is gonna be an unusual image here, this is actually a video, a time lapse that is playing, and I'm showing you on the bottom what is happening with the light at sunrise. And so we're moving up to our blue zone here, which happens relatively quickly, and then the sky becomes a little bit too bright. Now we don't have really good cloud light here, so we're not getting this, so it's just kind of ugly right now. The sky's too bright, and the landscape is too dark, and then as the sun gets up, we do have some clouds kind of blocking it here. And so every sunrise could result in a different graph, if you will, of when the moments are gonna be best and when they're not going to be best. And so at sunset, there is a good moment, this is what I think is one of the best moments when it comes to twilight, there's a good balance between the ambient light level and the lights of the city. Much earlier than this, you don't see the lights of the city, much later than this, the sky just becomes dark and you can't see Mount Rainier in the background. And so in this situation, let me chart this out for you as well. So this is sunset, alright. And so sunlight is kind of bright, there are some city lights on, but they're not nearly as bright as the sunlight, and then there's a bunch of other city lights that are not turned on yet, 'cause it's not dark yet. So as the sun sets, it gets darker as far as the natural light, and where these two lines meet up is gonna be really important in here. At a certain point, the city mandates and buildings decide to turn lights on, and now we have more lights turning on, and at the point where these two match up is a really good time to shoot, it's also about when we're getting in our blue zone. And so for your city shots, you're gonna find that there's gonna be this five or ten minute window where you really get this perfect balance of artificial and natural light, and that's the time you wanna shoot for is right then. And so there's a famous place up in Seattle, on Queen Anne Hill called Kerry Park where I shot this, and there's thousands and thousands of pictures taken of Seattle there every single day. And I've been there a lot, and I know what I'm shooting, at least I think I know, and I'll go there early and I'll wait through the whole process, but I'll set my camera up and I'll just be standing around, 'cause I know it's gonna get good in 20 minutes, but right now it's kind of in the, not quite in the right balance mode. And somebody who might be there for the first time, not really sure about what's happening with the light levels, they're just taking pictures the whole time, and they're probably gonna get back, and they go, wow, these pictures are really good here, and these other ones weren't. And so I'm not even bothering taking the other ones at this point now, because I've been there and I've shot this enough times, I've learned my lessons. But it's this mix right here, this balance between the artificial and the natural light being right about in the same realm. Now if you look over to Mount Rainier, look how well it's being illuminated. The sun has set for quite some time, and what's happening, I pointed my camera off to the right hand side, so this is what the sky looks like over here. And so this is the giant reflector that is illuminating Mount Rainier over here, and this is that nice, warm light that you get, you know, 20 minutes after sunset. There's not real powerful, but it is enough to illuminate the mountain there. And so shooting city scapes, right at the right time of day. So I was shooting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and I was really happy that I had gotten up when I did because I took this picture, and I was actually taking just a couple of pictures, and I took this one, and then they turned the lights out. And so you can tell how much of a difference they can make in having those lights turned on. And so, either waiting for them to turn the lights on, or knowing when they turn the lights on, it makes a big difference in a photograph. And so this nice, perfect mixture, I mean I took the subway out, waited for an hour, and I knew that there was like five minutes where I was gonna get a chance to shoot my shots. And so what I would try to plan out is what am I gonna shoot in those five minutes? What are different angles or different lenses that I can use for exactly that period of time? And getting that exact right mix of that orange and blue requires you being there, checking the angles out, and you will get that blue better by looking towards where the sun is gonna rise. You can still get the blue looking away from where the sun is, so looking to the west in the sunrise, but you'll find that it has a little bit more of an intense saturation when you're pointed in the right direction. So this is from Amani who says, "Do you keep the camera "at the same settings as the sun gives "from blue to yellow?" And the second, yeah, several questions about how you're in the field working as the light is changing. Right. And so, sunrise and sunset, one of the questions I had as a beginning photographer, is there a difference between sunrise and sunset? Basically the same thing, just mirrored reversed in most cases, and I know I'm slipping off the question here, but I will get back to it. In many cases, I think sunrises are better than sunsets. I'm sorry, there's some disappointment in the audience here, it's like, why did you say that? And it's for exactly that reason. It's most people wanna be out there at sunset, and so when you're out there at sunrise, it's partly just the fact that there's less people out there. But the fact of the matter is, like if you go out to the desert, or you go out to the forest, the environment has had a good eight to 10 hours to blow winds and knock away all those footprints, or to add dew onto the flowers, or just kind of reset from everything else. And that reset, that sleep for the environment can actually show up in some photographs. It really depends on how good the atmospheric conditions are at that particular time, but that's the reason that I prefer sunrises. So if I go out to shoot a sunrise, it's obviously very dark and I'm picking ISO 100, I'm either picking a middle aperture for sharpest settings, or I'm picking maybe a closed down aperture for depth of field, and then I'm just setting a really long shutter speed, 'cause it's really dark. And I shoot for a while, and then I'm like, uh oh, photos are getting a little bit lighter, just click it up a third of a stop, or a full stop on the shutter speeds, and my shutter speeds just keep getting faster, but the ISO stays the same, the depth of field generally stays the same, depending on what I'm shooting, and it's just the shutter speeds get faster and faster, and then at a certain point I can say, oh, don't need the tripod anymore because I'm up at 125th of a second. And in sunset it kind of works the opposite. I know in sunset, well actually, one of the other reasons I like sunrise is okay, so I'm a runner, and some of you've probably heard of the runner's high. Well all athletes get into the zone at certain times, they just like, everything's clicking, they are just doing their very, very best. They're seeing three, four steps ahead, they know exactly what's going on, they're feeling good. Photographers can get into the zone, and it's really disappointing as a photographer when you get into the zone and you're just finding everything to shoot with, you're getting inspiration in everything around you, and it's sunset and it goes to pure darkness. There's a very limited number of things that you can shoot at night. I do love night photography, there's nothing wrong with it, but it's limited in what you can do. But at sunrise, when you get into the zone, okay, you got the great sunrise, and then oh you found this, and this may have direct sunlight on it, but I figured out how to shoot it and now I got this, and I got that. You can just keep rollin' in that, I've rolled all the way into noon, shooting images that I was very happy with. And so there's a lot more play out that you can get in sunrise, and I know that does more than answer the question I hope. (both laugh) It's fun to hear how you approach and think about photographic situations and that, so that's awesome, thank you. We have a question here. I guess, actually piggybacking on that question, in addition to exposure, you have a color temperature change. Right. And so, how do you manage that in such a tiny window? Right, so number one is shooting RAW in camera. If you shoot RAW in camera, you can adjust the color later on, according to your needs without any damage to the original image. If you shoot JPEG, you can make adjustments, yeah, but there's a limited range, and you are technically damaging your photograph to some degree when you do that. So one of my thoughts in shooting with that in mind is just shoot it in auto white balance and worry about it later. Having said that, I don't like to have to fuss with images later on, I prefer them to be as I want them to be, and so I will often just set it to a sunny day, 'cause you could just set your camera to the sunny white balance almost all the time and you'd probably be fine, 'cause that's kind of the way the world looks most of the time and you wouldn't be that far off if you have to change it later on. And so I don't make too many changes with the white balance, 'cause it just doesn't matter, and I don't find myself tweaking with the white balance that much in post production. We'll talk about that in the next section on the art of editing, but I find that auto white balance does a pretty good job most of the time. Leaving it in sunny's not bad either, and it's just little tweak if necessary.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Fundamentals of Photography Class Outline
Learning Projects Workbook
Camera Keynote PDF
Sensor Keynote PDF
Lens Keynote PDF
Exposure Keynote PDF
Focus Keynote PDF
Gadgets Keynote PDF
Lighting Keynote PDF
Editing Keynote PDF
Composition Keynote PDF
Photographic Vision Keynote PDF

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


I don't think that adjectives like beautiful, fantastic or excellent can describe the course and classes with John Greengo well enough. I've just bought my first camera and I am a total amateur but I fell in love with photography while watching the classes with John. It is fun, clear, understandable, entertaining, informative and and and. He is not only a fabulous photographer but a great teacher as well. Easy to follow, clear explanations and fantastic visuals. The only disadvantage I can list here that he is sooooo good that keeps me from going out to shoot as I am just glued to the screen. :-) Don't miss it and well worth the money invested! Thank you John!


Dear John, thanks for this outstanding classes. You are not only a great photographer and instructor, but your classes are pleasant, they are not boring, with a good sense of humor, they go straight to the point and have a good time listening to you. Please, keep teaching what you like most, and I will continue to look for your classes. And thanks for using a plain English, that it's important for people who has another language as native language. Thanks again, Juan

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