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One of the best ways to improve any photo is to use dramatic light. Sunrises and sunsets provide the best and most reliable opportunities for good photographs in dramatic light. I always get a rush when I see a beautiful sunset or sunrise on the road. Experiencing a new location under beautiful light is just as important to me as is exploring the city or landscape, visiting the cafes, and meeting new people.

I’m not content to simply shoot whatever I happen to see when I see it. Instead, when I travel I seek out photogenic scenes throughout the day, and I return later to shoot the scene in the best possible light. This is all very transparent to the overall travel experience: I might be at a museum or walking around or at a cafe with a friend, and I’ll make a small mental note to return.

Sunrise is my favorite time of day. I’ll rarely wake up for one at home, but jetlag takes over on the road and it becomes easy to watch the sun come up when I’m wide awake at 3am. Sunsets are nice too; seeing a sunset is just a matter of working it into my day. I’ll often plan to have dinner at a place with a view, or hike up a hill to see and photograph the sunset. You can look up the sunrise/sunset times online if you’re not sure.

Any camera will do, although when I want to get serious I’ll bring a nice dslr with a tripod, and if there’s water I’ll bring a neutral density filter too. Over the years I’ve learned that you can take advantage of dramatic light without overdoing it. Interestingly, some of the best sunrise/sunset shots don’t have land or sky in the frame at all. This requires a more precise, creative approach in capturing what the light does to things, as opposed to constantly trying to take pictures of the light and sky itself.

The following examples were taken all over the world using anything from a cell phone to a high end dslr. Maybe I should warn you: there are a lot of pictures in this post. But I like pictures and I like dramatic light, so here goes…

Argentina

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

Belgium

Brussels

The first rays of light illuminate the sky over Brussels

Chile

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine in Patagonia

China

China

People running in front of downtown Shanghai

Shanghai Sunrise

Shanghai Sunrise

Czech Republic

Prague Sunset

Prague Sunset

Prague

Shortly after sunset in Prague.

Iceland

Iceland

Iceland

House Iceland

Dark, dramatic light after sunset in Iceland

Iceland Sunset

I stopped to shoot this scene while driving the ring road in Iceland

Horse at Sunset

Horse at Sunset

Snaefellsbaer

Snaefellsbaer

Jokusarlon

Jokusarlon

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland. I was balancing on some rocks as the tide came in. I asked my girlfriend to tell me if the water was getting too high, such that I might not make it back to the shore. Fun times. Worth it.

India

Delhi

The chaotic streets of Delhi at sunset

Goa

A serene Goan beach

Goa Sunset

Boat and sun in Goa

Goa Sunrise

Goa Sunrise

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Indonesia

Bali

Bali

Ireland

Clifden

Clifden, Ireland at dusk

Connemara

Dramatic light over Connemara

Dublin

Dublin in this film inspired photograph

Mongolia

Mongolia Sunset

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolia

Shot from the Trans Siberian Railway

Nepal

Morning

The first rays of sunlight emanate from behind some of the tallest mountains in the world

Kathmandu

Dramatic light in Kathmandu

Kathmandu

Sunset over Kathmandu via Instagram

Sunrise

Sunrise in the Himalayas

Poon Hill

Poon Hill sunrise. Rumor has it this is the best place to view the sunrise on Earth. I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu Sunrise

Poon HIll Sunrise

Poon HIll Sunrise

Russia

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal

Ice on Lake Baikal

Ice on Lake Baikal

Vladivostok Sunset

Vladivostok Sunset. Film photography inspired.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Sunrise

Sri Lanka just prior to sunrise

Sri Lanka Sunrise

Sri Lanka as the sun rises

Unawatuna at sunset

Unawatuna at sunset

Sweden

Stockholm

Stockholm on a rainy evening just after sunset. The dramatic light is more subdued in this one, but it’s definitely still there.

Switzerland

Zurich

Zurich sunset

Thailand

Koh Samui

Koh Samui after sunset

Thailand

Bangkok sunrise

Kata, Thailand

Kata, Phukent, Thailand

Turkey

Turkey

A bird flies in front of the setting sun in Istanbul

Istanbul

Istanbul Sunset

Presunrise Istanbul

The first rays of light turn the sky a deep, dark blue over Istanbul

Istanbul Sunset

Istanbul Sunset

USA

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago shortly after sunset

Chicago

Nice pastel colors illuminate the sky over Chicago at dusk

Marina City

The setting sun adds definition to Marina City in Chicago

Chicago Sunrise

Looking out over Lake Michigan at Sunrise in Chicago

Washington Monument

Sunset in Washington, D.C.

Texas Sunrise

Sunrise over Texas, USA. Shot from an airplane.

Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset

The same scene as above, shot just a few minutes before.

There is nothing particularly unique about these photos other than just being shot in nice light, and that I made the effort to get to a photogenic place when the light was good. Anybody can take great pictures in dramatic light. It’s just a matter of putting yourself there.

Author: Ed Graham

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