How to take beautiful sunrise photos with your smartphone

• 7 min read

With the amazing advances of technology in smartphones, all of us now have a high-powered digital camera at our fingertips on our phones. As a result, we have the ability to take professional-style photos in an instant.

However, despite all of this modern technology and apps to help edit and create an amazing image, we must first begin with the simple art of capturing an image to work with. Within the world of photography, there are many secrets to capturing a beautiful image. Today we are going to unearth the most important, simple, and quick tips to capture a stunning sunrise photo using your smartphone camera.

Like most of you, I’ve been taking pictures with my smartphone for years now and have thousands of photos to prove it. However, as a kid, I had a passion for photography and bought my first proper SLR camera at 16. But as often happens life took me in other directions and the love of photography got pushed to the background. In 2019 at 47 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer and my life changed forever in an instant. During the next 18 months of intensive surgeries and chemotherapy, I re-ignited my passion for photography with my trusty iPhone. Most days I was dragging myself out of bed literally to stay alive.

My love of the ocean took me to my local beach and it was there that my interest in sunrise photography began to develop. At first, it was out of some deep inner sense of the healing properties of the beauty and simplicity of nature and the symbolism of the sunrise meaning I had one more day on this big beautiful spinning blue ball. But as I slowly started winning the battle with cancer I became more interested in the art form of sunrise photography. I was taking pictures of the sunrise every day that my health would allow me to. I was reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, and anything else I could get my hands on to learn about the art of photography. I met a very experienced award-winning photographer Neil White and started learning from people like him. I was like a kid again!

During the last few years, I have learned a lot and also realise there is still so much more to learn. As they say, you’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotting! I hope we are green and growing together and these few simple tips help ignite your passion or at least help you capture those fleeting magical moments with a little more success on your smartphone.


1. Timing

There are 3 specific times you want to capture: Before (Blue Hour), during, and after (Golden Hour) the actual sunrise. As seen in the three images below, these different times will produce different colours and feelings with dramatic effects. This brief window of time is often referred to as the magic hour when the light is soft and is the time of day when the sun is low and near the horizon, providing a warm glow.

guide to taking beautiful sunrise photos
Sunrise photos by date of birth
sunrise photos for every day on northern beaches

2. Use the rule of thirds

This is a well-established rule in photography and there are many in-depth articles on how to use this rule and the benefits. To employ this rule quickly and easily, simply turn on the grid function on your smartphone. This will help you position your subject and is also a great way to ensure you keep your phone level and the horizon straight in your pictures. Click here to learn how to turn on the grid function for most smartphones.


3. Use Landscape mode

You can use this mode to capture a wider shot. Later the image will transfer to other mediums much more effectively and can be printed to a useable format should you so desire.

iPhone sunrise photography tips


4. Plan your subject

Decide what the subject is going to be. The most common is the actual sun itself. However, you can learn to create some pretty cool images using the rule of thirds instead of simply positioning the sun at the centre of your picture. For example, you may use a landscape feature such as a headland, vegetation like a tree or a flower, or a man-made structure such as a park bench or a rock pool.


5. Test your subject

Before the sunrises take pictures of the actual locations you think will be the best. This allows you to view the photo on your phone and make the necessary fine little adjustments to include or eliminate certain parts of your subject. For example, there may be a garbage bin on the beach at the bottom of the photo that you didn’t see initially. Take a few seconds to look at the image, and check for obvious faults or flaws. This is where you will also learn the most about how your camera works best in different light settings.

sunrise daily photos date of birth


6. Steady yourself for low light shots

Most sunrise photos will be in low light as the sun is yet to rise and produce the light needed. Use a tripod or even a selfie stick placed on the ground. This will also help with keeping your phone level and the horizon straight in your photos.


7. Take multiple shots

A split second can make all the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Take multiple pictures and review them later and read point 10!!

How to take a sunrise photo on iPhone


8. Avoid Digital Zoom

Your smartphone has the ability to zoom in with amazing power. However, it will often result in a blurred image. Digital zoom nearly always produces poor results as it reduces the resolution of the image. Avoiding it is one of the basic photography tips for taking better photos. Optical zooms however are fine as they do not affect the quality of the photo and these are becoming more common on smartphones. For example, newer smartphones have a number of lenses, allowing you to capture your surroundings at varying optical zoom levels.


9. Beware of sun-spots

When you take pictures of the sun you are exposing your camera to very high levels of light. We all know that photography is essentially all about the light so a big tip is to make sure you physically adjust the camera so as to position the sunspot in the image to the effect you want to create. You can even position the camera to eliminate sun spots if you so desire. Repeat step 7 to learn this one as it really is learned through trial and error. And of course, you can always edit out sunspots later if need be.

iPhone Sunrise Photography


10. Edit and delete

It’s absolutely critical that you edit and delete photos that are not your epic shot for the day. If this is a true passion and you take on average 40 photos a day within a month you’ve got 1200 photos!! Edit and delete the ones that are not worthy.


Bonus tip

Create a file or an album to store your photos. If you’re anything like the rest of us you probably have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand photos on your smartphone. Finding these later can prove to be a time-consuming task. So to combat this simply create an album or a file depending on your device. As a suggestion, I like to use the location and date. For example Narrabeen 20/02/21. Some smartphones do this automatically now but if not it only takes a few seconds to do it manually.


P.s. looking for the perfect sunrise photo for your special day? Search for your date here. The perfect thoughtful gift for new borns (or new mums), graduations, anniversaries and weddings.

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