How To Shoot a Sunrise: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series. You can read Part 1 here.

In this part we are going to look at how to edit your sunrise shots. I feel that his is an integral part of the process. While some out there may spout that “It looks photoshopped” rhetoric, editing your photos properly is essential in getting the look that you want. Also for my answer on how I feel about critiques on HDR and similar edits, check out my recent post.

The Vision

This is not about “fixing” an image but rather enhancing it. If you have ever burnt your dinner and tried to cover it up with spices or ketchup, you know that it is in vain. It just tastes like burnt garbage. It is the same with a photo. You can’t fix a crappy photo. For the most part you can’t “un-blur” an out-of-focus image simply or easily. Get it right in camera first.

This is more about achieving the vision that you have for your image. This “vision” should have started back when you composed the image in the field. Even right back to when you chose the location. What image did you have in mind? What elements were sticking out in your mind’s eye?

By starting with a vision of what you want to create, this will allow you to edit with purpose. It will streamline your editing process to where you are not just sliding stuff around to see what will happen, but rather you are doing precisely what the image needs to achieve your vision.

The Firesky Edit

For this shot I was trying to bring out the colour in the dynamic sky and the warm tones. It was this vision that pushed me to shoot in brackets to be able to make an HDR image using Skylum’s Aurora. However, looking at the original image, I needed to make it a little warmer.

Once I imported the images into Aurora HDR 2019, I started with Serge Ramelli’s Sunset Look and then adjusted from there. Remember, I am editing to what I wanted to see. So please, forget what the amounts are if you are following at home because the outcome of this image and your vision or your image will not be the same.

When I applied the look, I adjusted for my own vision. I wanted to emphasise the sky and bring out more detail. So, I dropped down the highlights, boosted the polarizing filter and adjusted the colour contrast. This effectively achieved what I was looking for.

Finally, once I brought the image back into lightroom, I cleaned up the image as I noticed some dust spots. I dropped the midtones down a little and bumped Presence up a bit by adjusting those sliders. Particularly the texture and dehaze.

The Split Edit

For this shot, I wanted to show the moment the sun broke the horizon. Initially, I wanted to create this the traditional way with warmer colours and tones. However, when I looked at the image in lightroom, I realized that there was a transition from warm to cool and light to dark that I wanted to emphasize.

Instead of making an HDR image, I chose to import the image into Luminar Flex. This gives me a number of avenues to pursue when editing the image. Again, I have an idea that I want to show with this image.

I started off by using a preset or “look” as Skylum calls them. In this case, I used “Aerial AI Enhancer” look to keep everything relatively cool but also to bring out the pops of colour in the image as well. On a side note, this pack of presets is one of my favorites. The “Aerial Golden Hour” look is also amazing for sunrises.

I then added the “golden hour” look that boosted the warm tones and added in a bit of saturation. That was pretty much it for this image. As I had shot this at F/22, I did not need to add in any sunrays or anything like that as I achieved that already in camera.

Building Your Vision

As you can see, what I am doing here is starting from a “look” and then adjusting the image to what I want to see. Not all presets are going to give you the same look. However, they give you a great starting point.

The way Luminar Flex is set up, the previews along the bottom give you a rough idea of what to expect. From there you can adjust and add filters to your liking. You are essentially building your vision one filter at a time.

Preferred Filters

Outside of the looks, Luminar Flex has a very powerful set of filters. For sunrises, I like:

  • Accent AI 2.0 – It gives an overall general improvement. Often it is all you need for some images.
  • AI Sky Enhancer – Works in a similar way to the Accent AI but works to improve the sky.
  • Golden Hour – This does a lot to improve the look and feel of your sunrise shots. It adds in warmth and saturation where it is needed.
  • Polarizing Filter – This is great for skies and to add in more contrast.
  • Top & Bottom Lighting – a great filter to brighten up areas in the top or bottom of the image that may have been affected by global adjustments.

Lightroom Adjustments

In Lightroom there are a few things that I like to do as well. Typically, I use lightroom for the general adjusting and “fixing” of the image. Luminar Flex can do these as well but I find that Lightroom does them faster and more accurately. They are:

  • The new texture slider – Works great for adding detail to skies.
  • The Lens Corrections – They are great especially if you are using a wide angle.
  • The Dehaze Slider – It adds a bit of added contrast in a different way than the contrast slider.
  • The Upright Adjustments – They are not perfect but get the job done.

The bottomline is that you are in control of your vision for the image. What I have outlined here is basically what I do with regards to editing images for sunrises. You do not need the exact details and amounts because it will not be the same for you.

I cannot emphasise this enough. You can start with a preset or a look but finish with your own vision. Presets are just a starting point. The same preset will not work the same for each and every image.

What you need to learn and hopefully by this post, is to craft your image with your own vision. Start with what you want to achieve and then use the tools at your disposal to create it.

Click the button to use my affiliate link to test out Skylum’s products. Use the coupon code “TEALE” to get an additional discount when you purchase Luminar or Aurora HDR.

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