Sunrise Portraits Part II – The Techniques

Image by Jessica Truscott

Every photographer in love with a good portrait session wants to push the envelope with new techniques to improve results. Part I discussed a number of tips and tricks that will guarantee a fantastic Sunrise Portrait-Shoot. Experiment with those tips and tricks before taking on these techniques.

Before moving forward with these techniques, start by watching for light – all the time and everywhere. After all, using this breathtaking light is the entire point of getting up before dawn for a photo-shoot. It’s soft. The shadows are long. Make the most of this “magic hour” by paying close attention to light all around you.

Photograph on Manual
So long as you are facing your subject into the light, Aperture Priority is sufficient for a perfectly exposed portrait. However, with Sunrise light you have so many options for more complicated exposures, so manually exposing will be your friend.

Experiment with Under-Exposing and adding Fill Flash
Under-exposing the background will keep beautifully vivid color in the sky backdrop. Sunrises can vary from deep reds and oranges, with splashes of bright purples and blues. Including this gorgeous landscape will make dynamic portraits! Avoid a silhouette in this kind of scenario by adding a fill that will light up your subject. Furthermore, your subject will stand out by golden rim lighting.

Have your subject stand with their back to the light
Under-expose your shot by 1 – 2 full stops so that the background [the sunrise itself] is an even exposure. Add a fill to light your subject with fill flash or reflector.

Over-Expose the Portrait for Variety
It’s easy to use over-exposure too much, but with a bit of creativity, you can use the light in this way for a splash of variety. Want your subject to be evenly exposed and the background to be washed out? Try the following:

  • Position your subject in front of the light. [the sun]
  • Meter for your subject’s face.
  • Increase your exposure by 1/3 to 2/3 a stop to wash out the background without losing too much detail in your subject's skin.

Capture Lens Flare
Think of it as a dash of salt in a portrait shoot – something that adds flavor but should not be the key component in your entire dish. Lens flare is all about the angle of light and how it comes through the lens. You can capture some awesome artistry with lens flare. Position your subject in front of the light. Get down low OR turn your lens at an angle into the light. Overexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 a stop to brighten your subject without loosing the flare.

Put your Sunrise Portrait Shoot on the calendar! It may require getting up earlier than normal, but you will find the results to be far worth it! Remember, maturing your eye for seeing light and capturing it effectively will take both time and practice. Evaluate your shots with a critical eye and learn from mistakes. You will make rapid progress with a bit of time and energy!

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