I’ll be the first to admit that I am far more likely to to be found shooting a sunset than a sunrise. However, when I do shoot a sunrise the results are often very rewarding.
Generally speaking, the best locations for shooting and viewing sunrises are ones with big views. For example, I am more inclined to shoot a sunrise in the desert or mountains than in a dense forest. In the desert or alpine landscape, the changes in light are often long-lasting and dramatic during sunrise.
The first step is to have a location scouted out and know where the sun is going to come up. I use an app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (link: http://photoephemeris.com/) that pinpoints the trajectory for sun and moon movement across the sky from any location on any date. If you don’t have cell service where you are planning to shoot, then you can always just look up that info in advance or use basic directional and observational skills to predict where the sun will be rising.
It can be hard to find motivation to emerge from your warm sleeping bag when it is still cold and dark outside. Before falling asleep, I attach whichever lens and lens filter I plan on using the next morning. If I know it is going to be dry overnight, I will leave my tripod set up outside my tent. Doing these things in advance makes it that much easier to roll out of your tent and start shooting.
With the sun about to rise and your camera mounted to your tripod, it is time to start capturing the the changing light on the landscape. When shooting sunrises, or any other landscapes for that matter, I generally use either the Tokina Wide Angle 11 – 16 lens or Canon L series 24 – 105 lens.
As far as settings go, I tend to shoot the sunrise in Aperture Value (AV) or Manual (M) mode. You will want to shoot with a small aperture (high number) for a sharp landscape image. If there are items in the foreground, you will want the Aperture Value (AV) set near the highest possible number (smallest aperture) that your lens allows. Keep in mind, however, that doing so will allow your camera to capture less light, so you will have to compensate by either boosting your ISO or increasing your Time Value (TV) numbers. If you are shooting in Aperture Value (AV) mode, the necessary adjustment to Time Value (TV) will be made automatically. Boosting your ISO values will allow your camera to take in more light, but doing so may also add undesirable amounts of noise to the image, so you never want to push the ISO values beyond what your camera can handle.
When shooting a sunrise, I focus on the area that the light hits for the first time. This can be the peak of a mountain, part of a lake, or dramatic clouds on the horizon. To add contrast, it is helpful to include in the frame areas that the sun as not yet reached. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the best part of shooting a sunset is the experience of being in the wilderness while watching the day begin.