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Dawn
At dawn there are no long shadows or pronounced texture. You aren’t sure how the landscape will look when the sun comes up so it’s hard to know where to position the camera and tripod. Once the land is finally bathed in sunlight, you have to run around like crazy looking for the best compositions. Unlike sunset, every minute that passes means the lighting is getting worse. The first 20 or 30 minutes are beautiful, but after that the magic begins to slip away.

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One of the advantages of shooting at dawn, though, is that low-lying fog or mist is sometimes present. This adds an ethereal quality that can be spectacular as the sun partially penetrates the airborne moisture. This usually doesn’t happen at sunset. This photo of mist hovering above a pond (#9) was taken five minutes after sunrise. Similarly a sunrise photograph of Reflection Lake at the base of Mt. Rainier in Washington (#10) reveals golden colors in the mist.

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Spotlight Moments
One of the most amazing things to photograph at sunrise or sunset is when the sun peeks through an opening in the clouds and illuminates a feature in the landscape. This can be extremely fleeting. It happened when I was shooting Rainbow Arch in Lake Powell, Utah (#11). The snow-covered mountains were illuminated for just a few seconds while the foreground sandstone structure remained in shadow. In Zion National Park, the sun peaked out through a window in the clouds at sunset and illuminated a cliff face producing a wonderful contrast in color (#12). I saw this while I was driving through the park and immediately pulled over to get the shot. Hesitating even a minute or two can mean the loss of the opportunity.

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Tech Tip: White Balance Settings
When you shoot pictures at sunrise, sunset or even twilight, I strongly suggest that you shoot on a “daylight” white balance. Many photographers choose Auto White Balance instead and I feel this is a mistake. Auto White Balance “corrects” the golden tones from the low angled sunlight and makes them white. In other words, the yellowish cast that we expect (and love) from the sunrise or sunset is lost. You will see the same rich texture, the long shadows, and the beautiful lighting minus the warm color. Instead, I would encourage you to shoot on a daylight White Balance or 5500K when photographing outdoors.

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