How do I take stunning sunrise and sunset pictures with my phone?

Sunset and sunrise are my favorite things in the world. They bring peace after a hectic day and give you hope on a quiet, sunny morning. I love watching the sunsets with my husband, but I enjoy the sunrise on my own.

It is a beautiful spectacle where you see all the colors of the rainbow. Of course, no sunset or sunrise is the same, but there are some rules and settings that will help you take stunning images with your phone of all of them. That’s why I have put together these 20 tips for photographing sunrise and sunset with your Android phone or iPhone. 

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20 pro tips for taking stunning sunrise and sunset images with your phone

  1. Check what time the sun rises or sets
  2. Pick a stunning location
  3. Clouds can lift the eventual result
  4. Stay after the sun sets and come before sunrise
  5. Shoot in RAW in Manual Mode
  6. Clean the camera lens
  7. Bring a tripod and remote shutter
  8. Choose a longer shutter speed
  9. Use an ND filter
  10. Pick an interesting foreground or background
  11. Adjust brightness
  12. Choose the correct white balance
  13. Use the rule of thirds
  14. Use landscape mode and wide-angle lens
  15. Pay attention to lens flare
  16. Take many images with different settings
  17. Zoom with your feet
  18. Shoot towards and away from the sun
  19. Edit your images
  20. Take advantage of the golden hour

➽ At the end of this article, you will find the best sunset mobile photography settings.

Sunrise New Zealand East Coast
Sunrise East Coast New Zealand by Inge from Smartphone Photography

1 Check what time the sun rises or sets

When you want to take professional-looking photographs, you must know what time the sunrise or sunset is. You can google the time or use an app to find the times, including golden hour, blue hour, and twilight. 

iOS app – the Golden Hour One

Easy to use interface with information on sunrise, sunset, blue hour, nautical and astronomical twilight, moon phases, weather forecast, and much more. 

➽ You can download this iPhone app from the iOS store

Phototime Golden Hour Photography app

Android app – Phototime Golden Hour Photography

This award-winning application from Phototime is ad-free and will help you o find all magic hours during the day and the night, including a map with sunset and sunrise directions. In the Pro version, you can even find Lightroom presets for mobile and PC, cloud cover information, moon phases, and sun angle. 

➽ You can download this Android app from the Play Store

Pro tip: Leave for the shoot well in advance to be in time for a magical scene. Allow plenty of time to find a good spot, set up your tripod, clean the lenses, and add a filter.

Sunrise at Kairakau East Coast New Zealand by Inge Smartphone from Photography

2 Pick a stunning location

Good preparation is the key to a successful image. Find and scout some locations in advance. The beautiful colors are there for just a few minutes; it would be a shame you spend this precious time looking for a lovely spot to take images with your phone. 

Pro tip: Normally, I make sure I arrive 30 minutes before sunrise and 15 minutes before sunset. You can see unique colors in the sky minutes before sunrise; it is truly a magical moment. It also allows you to enjoy the blue hour (before dawn) and golden hour (before sunset). 

After sunrise New Zealand East Coast
Clouds can make photos more interesting by Inge from Smartphone Photography

3 Clouds can lift the eventual result

You might think that clear skies are the best for sunset photography, but I dare to say otherwise. Don’t be put off when you see clouds rolling in. The best sunrise and sunset images have some clouds in them. 

A cloudless sky can make a photograph boring! However, it is the clouds that reflect the stunning colors of the rising or setting sun. So even if it is almost fully overcast (except where the sun sets), you can still take stunning photos.

Blue hour before sunrise by Inge from Smartphone Photography

4 Stay after the sun sets and come before sunrise

Don’t leave immediately after the sunsets! A lot of people pack up their gear and go home after the sun disappears under the horizon. But now is when the magic happens! Both the blue hour and golden hour have plenty to offer to smartphone photographers. 

➽ You can read all about how to photograph the blue hour with your cellphone in this blog

Often you are treated to even more beautiful colors in the clouds just after the sun has set. So I always stay longer and leave when I see and know that the colors won’t get any more beautiful.

Take Raw images with your phone
Take RAW images with your smartphone

5 Shoot in RAW

RAW images are easily manipulated in post-processing in Lightroom, Snapseed, or Photoshop. RAW means photographs are unprocessed and uncompressed and contain all data from the scene you just captured with your smartphone camera. It makes it easier to edit the image. Information on brightness, color, and contrast are all in the file, which gives you ultimate creative freedom. 

You can find the RAW settings in the Pro, Professional, or Manual Mode of your smartphone’s native camera app. Most cellphones come with a professional RAW mode nowadays. 

➽ More on shooting RAW with your phone in this popular blog post.

6 Clean the camera lens

Make sure you don’t have any fingerprints or grease on the lenses of your smartphone. They can ruin your photos and are the number one reason for unsharp pictures. Clean the lens with a microfiber cloth (you can find the ones I use for a few bucks on Amazonbefore you start taking images. It would be a shame to spend minutes cleaning the lens while the sun is rising or setting.

Pro tip: don’t clean the lens with your clothes, handkerchief, or any type of fluids; they can destroy your lens or add even more dust. A microfiber cloth or lens pen are the best options. 

➽ Read all about how to clean the lens of your smartphone camera in this blog post

Wireless Remote Shutter for Smartphone
My Wireless Remote Shutter available from Amazon for a few bucks

7 Bring a tripod and remote shutter

You can take the best-looking images with the use of a tripod and remote shutter. Because the light is much weaker than in broad daylight, your cellphone has to compensate for the low light. It can result in blurry images. However, you can take tack-sharp pictures with the use of a tripod and remote shutter. You won’t need to touch the camera and prevent any unwanted camera shake

Buying tip: You can find my favorite Professional Mactrem tripodJoby Gorillapod, and Wireless Remote Shutter for a very reasonable price on Amazon. I have been using all three products for several years, and they never let me down. 

8 Choose a longer shutter speed

Many sunset and sunrise images are taken in the vicinity of water. It is not necessary, but it often works well. A lake or ocean means an open space where you can see the sun appearing or disappearing behind the horizon. The colors of the sun will reflect in the water, which creates a well-balanced picture.

There is less light in the minutes around sunrise and sunset, making working with a longer shutter speed easier. A slower shutter speed ensures that flowing water gets a nice soft or dynamic effect. You will need a tripod and remote shutter to use this technique! 

9 Use an ND filter

Use a Neutral Density (ND) filter during golden hour when the sun is still well above the horizon to block the majority of light coming into the lens. It allows you to use a longer shutter speed and create smooth-looking seas, streams, and lakes. 

➽ You can use this clip-on filter from Neewer with any smartphone on the market (remove your protective case). Another option is this Neewer kit with Wide Angle lens, Graduated Color Filter, CPL Filter, and ND Filter. 

Forest Capture Golden Hour by Inge from Smartphone Photography

10 Pick an interesting foreground or background

Make sure you pick an interesting foreground or background, so your image has more depth and is well balanced. If necessary, you can use a Graduated Filter from Apexel or Neewer if the sky is too bright compared to the foreground.

Like people, cows, and palm trees, clear and distinctive silhouettes work best in sunrise and sunset images. However, you can darken the silhouette even more in post-processing by increasing contrast and dark tones.

11 Adjust brightness and use low ISO values

Most native smartphone camera apps have a manual mode to adjust shutter speed, white balance, ISO values, and brightness. Use the slider to brighten or darken the image. It comes particularly handy when you want to have a silhouette in the foreground; you will have to adjust the brightness to make the foreground dark. 

Try to keep your ISO values as low as possible to prevent too much noise from appearing in your photographs. Please focus on the sky so that it is well exposed and prevent the foreground from being lit up. Otherwise, the sky may be blown out, which is harder to edit. 

12 Choose the correct white balance

Do the warm colors of the sunrise or sunset not come across well in your photographs? Then change the white balance to ‘cloudy‘ or pick a higher Kelvin number. You can easily see the colors change on the screen of your smartphone while using the slider. With the white balance setting, you can easily amplify the warm colors slightly. 

Pro tip: If you choose to take RAW photos, which I would recommend, you can adjust this afterward without loss of quality in Lightroom or Photoshop.

➽ If you like to know more about taking RAW images, check out this blog

Sun is positioned at 1/3 of the top

13 Use the rule of thirds

You might have heard of the rule of thirds, it is a well-known rule in photography, and I can talk about it for hours. But if you are just looking for a quick way to incorporate the rule in your sunrise and sunset images, here is the brief version.

➽ Turn on the grid function on your cell phone by going to settings and looking for ‘assistive grid‘ or anything similar and toggle it on. Next, place the sun on ⅓ or ⅔ of the top and/or left side of the image, focus (automatically), and use the remote shutter to take the shot.

Pro tip: some images are better when you don’t use the rule of thirds and put the sun in the center of the picture. Shoot multiple photos from different angles and see what works best after the shoot. Keep the ones you love and delete the others. 

14 Use landscape mode and wide-angle lens

Sunrise and sunset images usually work best in landscape mode with a wide-angle lens. But, of course, your smartphone might have a built-in wide-angle lens, and otherwise, you can pick my favorite Xenvo lens up on Amazon. 

Lens flare from sunrise by Vlada Karpovich

15 Pay attention to lens flare

When you have the sun directly in the photo, a lens flare can occur. These are colored spheres, dots, or rainbows that appear in the picture. Whether or not you think lens flare adds something to your images is a personal preference. 

If you experience the lens flare as disturbing, you can move your tripod slightly to the left or right. Even the minimal change can be enough to make the lens flare disappear. Filters can amplify the lens flare effect, so be careful using them while taking images of the sunset or sunrise. 

Pro tip: It is possible to remove sunspots and slight lens flare from the image in Lightroom or Photoshop. But if you don’t like them, it is best to avoid having them in the picture. 

16 Take many images with different settings

Try taking sunrise and sunset images with different settings, like longer shutter speed, different white balance, and ISO values, to see what works best. If you are a beginner smartphone photographer, you can practice your skills with any sunrise and sunset. Play around with the composition as well and find some exciting backgrounds or silhouettes.

Because the sun moves pretty fast, or at least it looks that way, during sunset and sunrise, that’s why you should take many images within a short time frame. Then, you can review them later and delete all the pictures that aren’t warming your heart.  

17 Zoom with your feet

Your smartphone native camera probably can zoom in. Please don’t use it! It is nothing more than a digital zoom that crops the original image size. The result is blurry images. Some smartphones come with optical zoom, which is acceptable; however, zooming with your feet remains the best option. So walk closer to the subject and take your pictures

Shoot sideways or away from the sun by Simon Berger

18 Shoot towards and away from the sun

Don’t just photograph towards the sun; you can find some fantastic colors and atmospheres when shooting away from the sun. With a little bit of luck, the clouds behind, and next, you will show pretty pinks and purples. These colors are often softer and pastel-like and make for a romantic picture. 

Adobe Lightroom App for Android
Adobe Lightroom for Mobile

19 Edit your images

The most important part of editing sunset and sunrise photography starts with shooting RAW images. This setting will guarantee that none of the information on light, contrast, and color will be lost during the editing process, and you can adjust anything you need to.

➽ Here are some basic steps to edit your sunset and sunrise photos in Lightroom.

Import, for example, your images in Lightroom (for Mobile) and use a preset or start from scratch. You can find some pretty excellent lightroom presets for sunset and sunrise on Etsy. Here are my favorites:

  • Sunset – 20 Desktop and Mobile Presets – by Luliia Presets
  • Sunset – 10 Sunset Lightroom Mobile and Desktop Presets – by KIINcreations
  • Golden Hour – 10 Lightroom Mobile and Desktop Presets – by CCpreset

Start editing your smartphone photos by adjusting the highlights. Bringing down the highlights will give you more color and contrast in the sky. Especially with some clouds, this will provide something extra to the image. 

After adjusting the highlights, you can adjust exposure, shadows, and vibrance. Finally, add a graduated filter (if you haven’t used a physical one during the shoot) to create a more dramatic effect in the sky. You can, for example, adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, temperature, and tint in this filter. 

Golden Hour close to my home by Inge from Smartphone Photography

20 Take advantage of the golden hour

Oke, it does not have much to do with sunset or sunrise, but it is absolutely worth it to take images during the golden hour. It is the time just before sunset and after sunrise. Due to the position of the sun and the warm color, the golden hour often provides beautiful light to photograph a landscape or portrait.

Best mobile settings for sunset and sunrise photography

Here are a few settings you should definitely try using while taking sunset and sunrise images with your mobile phone.

  • Use the built-in wide-angle lens or use a clip-on lens;
  • Set the camera to manual or pro mode;
  • Activate RAW (uncompressed images);
  • Turn on the guidelines to use the rule of thirds;
  • Keep your smartphone camera horizontally (landscape mode);
  • Focus on the sky with manual focus or set it to infinity if possible. This will likely underexpose the foreground;
  • Use a low to mid-range ISO value of 100 to 600 (or at least as low as possible);
  • Try using the HDR mode, which will allow you to improve exposure in a scene with a wide range of light (and darkness);
  • Choose a slower shutter speed if you like to smoothen water like lakes and oceans. For images with silhouettes start from 1/250s. Change the value up and down and see what it does to the image on your mobile screen. 

➽ Make sure to check the 20 tips for creating stunning sunset and sunrise images with your iPhone and Android phone.

Final thoughts on taking sunrise and sunset images with your iPhone or Android

Taking images of a rising and setting sun. I hope this guide will help you create lovely photos with your iPhone or Android smartphone. 

Start with gathering the right gear, like a tripod, remote shutter, and microfiber cloth. Then, look for an open area close to your home (preferably with some water nearby), set up your gear, use the tips for choosing the correct settings, and start creating romantic pictures of the sunrise or sunset. 

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