There is something about a sunrise or sunset over the water, and I love locations where I'm able to photograph both a sunrise and sunset on the water. We have been vacationing on the Outer Banks for the past 26 years, and in the beach town of Duck, NC I am able to photograph the sunrise over the ocean, and the sunset over the sound. And after chasing sunrises and sunsets for many years it still amazes me the color show the happens during a good sunrise or sunset.
As far as sunrise goes, the first thing I do is check the local reports on what time the sun rises. Then I make sure I am out to the beach a minimum of a half hour prior to that (it makes for some very early days). Some clouds are a benefit at sunrise and sunset - over time I can usually take a look at the sky & clouds if they are there and have a pretty good feel for if they will produce spectacular color or not. On my first sunrise on my last trip the the Outer Banks - when my alarm went off I took a peek outside and it looked like we had some pretty heavy cloud cover. But being the first day of vacation I went ahead and walked down to the beach. When I looked to my right, this was what it looked like. I wasn't expecting much of a color show. Taken at 5:31am:
Off to my left, the sky looked a little more promising giving me a little more hope. (And during this trip, I continued to experiment with longer exposure surf pictures in case you are wondering about the 'softness' you see in the surf). Taken at 5:38am:
To the right, I started to see some breaks through the heavy cloud layer. Taken at 5:45am
Out in front of me, the rising sun started to light up the clouds. Taken at 5:50am:
Right before the sun broke the horizon, I was thankful for the heavy cloud cover. What a show I was getting! Because there was what might have been clouds at the horizon line I wasn't sure exactly when the sun was rising. Taken at 5:55am:
But then I saw the sliver of sun, and I suppose this is what is referred to as the 'crack of dawn'! Taken at 5:56am
So as you can see in that series of photographs, the color show really popped right at sunrise. It doesn't always happen that way - as I said I typically try to be ready at least a half hour prior to sunrise (and some times I miss the real show).
In my years of photographing sunsets, I find the same is true, but in reverse kind of. I typically plan to stay out for close to a half hour past sunset to see if mother nature is going to give a color show. On my last night in the Outer Banks this past trip, we had a dinner out at a restaurant on the sound and we finished up right as the sun was getting ready to set. I noticed some high whispy clouds in the sky so I was pretty confident a show was going to happen. One thing I notice, particularly at water sunsets is people leave as soon as the sun sets. Take a look at these photos to see what they are missing. Taken at 7:50pm:
In this picture, I wanted to catch the sun reflecting off the water in line with the gazebo. Taken at 7:52pm:
The soundside boardwalk in Duck provides some visual interest to sunset photos. Taken at 8:16pm:
Once the sun drops to the horizon, it doesn't take long to disappear. Taken at 8:22pm
I told my family that was with me to keep checking over their shoulder as we walked in the opposite direction, that in 10-15 minutes we might get a show. And 13 minutes later it was coming. Taken at 8:35pm
And on this evening, we were treated to the color show for a good amount of time-about 10 minutes (my experience is typically it is very fleeting, I am pretty happy if I get 3 minutes or so of extaordinary color). Taken at 8:39pm.
Color still strong. Taken at 8:43pm:
About over now. Taken at 8:45pm:
All photographs were taken with a Canon 6D with Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8L USM.
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