How to Capture Instagram-Worthy Photos at Sunrise or Sunset

How to Capture Instagram-Worthy Photos at Sunrise or Sunset

Photo: John Suhar

Whether you’re taking on the NYRR Sunrise to Sunset 5K Photo Challenge or just want to learn how to snap better pics for the ‘gram, use these tips from John Suhar, visual content manager at New York Road Runners, to capture the perfect image of a sunrise or sunset—or anything you stumble upon.

1) Plan ahead.

Use map apps and social media to gather inspiration for places you’d like to photograph—or simply explore your city or town on foot.

2) Work with the equipment you’ve got.

The best camera is the one you have with you—digital SLR cameras and smartphone cameras both capture beautiful photos. That said, upgrades like a polarized filter or a neutral density filter, along with a macro lens or a fisheye lens, can provide a unique perspective on what’s in front of you. 

Photo: John Suhar

3) Remember: Lighting is in the eye of the beholder.

For portraits and landscapes, generally, the best time to shoot is around sunrise and sunset—the good ol’ “golden hours.” But you can still use overhead flat light and shadows in creative ways during other times of the day.

4) Compose your shot with a dose of creativity.  

Approach your subject thoughtfully. Try to capture different angles and different perspectives. Think about symmetry—or asymmetry, if you prefer—along with capturing strong colors, textures, patterns, and shapes. Remember the rule of thirds.

  Photo: John Suhar

Photo: John Suhar

5) Familiarize yourself with depth of field.

The closer your subject is to the camera or the more your lens is zoomed in, the shallower your depth of field will be. Moving farther away from your subject with deepen your depth of field. Use the foreground to create depth and offset your subject, or get physically close to your subject to create an emotional connection.

If you’re shooting with a camera, play with the aperture, which controls the amount of light entering the camera; it’s measured in “f stops.” The bigger the number (e.g f/16), the smaller the opening for light to come through—or the smaller the aperture. A smaller aperture also allows you to keep a larger area of the frame in focus, which can be helpful for wide landscape shots.

A small f stop (e.g. f/2.8), or a wider aperture, allows more light in and creates a shallow (small) depth of field. With a wider aperture, the background is out of focus, allowing the subject to stand out in portraits.

6) Study up on shutter speed.

If you’re taking shots of movement—like people running—understanding shutter speed is key. Measured in seconds, shutter speed is the amount of time your camera “sees” what you’re about to capture. A fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/4000 of a second) is used to capture a fast-moving subject, giving the appearance that it’s frozen in time.

  Photo: John Suhar

Photo: John Suhar

A longer, “slower” shutter speed (e.g. 3 seconds) can take some effort to get right when shooting movement; you might end up with a lot of blurry outtakes, but when executed correctly, you can capture a subject with a trail of light behind it, giving your photo an ethereal feel.

7) Don’t forget to have fun.

Balance creating content and enjoying the moment. Finding the moment when all the variables mentioned above come together can create the perfect experience and the fun you have along the way will show in your work.

8) Find your favorite editing app.

In addition to the editing tools that come with Instagram, some of my favorite editing apps are Adobe Photoshop Express, Adobe Lightroom CC, Snapseed, Lens Distortions, and VSCO.

Give it a shot!

The NYRR Virtual Sunrise to Sunset 5K is the perfect time to practice your smartphone photography skills while getting in a workout. Sign up today and don't forget to use #NYRRVirtualRacing with the amazing photos you share. To bring out the colors in a sunset, I like to decrease highlights, increase vibrancy, and add clarity to—or “dehaze”—the image.

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