Something I have always wanted to capture, is a photograph of a sunrise. This apparently simple feat has been exceptionally difficult to achieve. Having spent many an early morning traipsing around in the frost I finally managed something along the lines of what I had always intended.
My first attempts at sunrises were not particularly successful as can be seen in the shots below.
The above photograph illustrates what happens when we expose the photograph for the sky, the result is an under exposed foreground.
In this photograph, the opposite has occurred, the photograph has been correctly exposed for the foreground but as a result, the sky is over exposed resulting in the washed out look.
Having seen far to many photographs of sunrises that are neither over or under exposed, I determined it most be possible to capture a sunrise where you can see both the colours of the sky and include details of the foreground, however I would need to do a little research.
Having combed the internet, looking for articles detailing the art of sunrise photography I came to the following conclusion, those amazing photographs of sunrises you see in magazines are possible but require a little more work.
Based on my research you either need a combination of filters attached to your camera, or you can create an HDR image using computer software.
As most compact cameras do not allow for the attachment of filters or at the very least expensive adapters need to be purchased I decided to attempt an HDR photograph.
As I understand it, HDR (High Dynamic Range) involves taking at least three photos of the same scene, each at different shutter speeds. The result is a bright, medium, and dark photo. A software process then combines all the photos so that detail is visible in both the shadows and highlights of the scene resulting in a final image which displays a closer representation of what we actually see when looking at a landscape.
As an HDR photograph requires at least three snaps of the exact same scene I packed my tripod and went in search of a good spot to catch the sunrise. Luckily I arrived at my destination, just before sunrise so I had time to find a good spot and set up the camera and tripod.
As you need to take three photographs at different exposures, you will need to read your camera’s manual to determine if your model allows any control in this area. I currently use a Canon PowerShot G11 which makes this task simple as it offers the functionality of bracketing when in AV mode. When set to bracketing mode, the camera will automatically take three shots, the first with the exposure bias (EV) set to 0, then second set to -2 and the last set to +2.
While not all compact cameras will have a bracketing function, many of the newer models do allow you to set the exposure bias or EV in certain modes so provided you have a tripod or something to set your camera on, you should be able to get the required shots. Canon PowerShot owners can also look at CHDK which unlocks extra functionality like bracketing when installed on the cameras SD card.
Armed now with the three images I needed to look towards software. I decided to use an application called Picturenaut. My decision was influenced by three factors:
- Picturenaut is free
- Easy to use
- Accurately aligns the images
Although HDR is not the simplest of processes, the final result is pleasing and well worth the effort. Like all things photography, practise is the key to beautiful shots and in time perhaps even I will achieve the perfect sunrise!