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Lessons learned: sunrise sessions

It’s no secret at all that I ADORE sunrise; any of my couples can attest to how giddy I get when I tell them about morning sessions :). Four of my last five e-sessions took place at dawn. I’m just addicted to that morning glow! Golden hour (that 45-ish minute window of warm, coppery light) happens twice a day; once at daybreak, and then again the hour before sunset. To me, though, there’s something just a LITTLE bit more romantic about sunrise, so I do my best to schedule all of my portrait sessions in the morning. Sure, I might regret the decision for 3-4 minutes when my alarm goes off at 4:15 for a 5:45 am start time, but once I’m awake, and especially once we get shooting, I’ve never once heard anyone say “I wish we’d scheduled this later.” It’s ALWAYS a good decision! So in honor of my love affair with pre-dawn wake-ups, let’s chat about some tips for sunrise sessions! Here are a few questions I’ve received from other photographers on the subject:

Q: What time do you start shooting for a sunrise session?
A: Right at sunrise! Literally. I have the sunrise calendar bookmarked on my Google Chrome, and when my couples and I are chatting about what time we meet, I base it off of the exact time the sun will rise. If the calendar say 6:15 am, I ask my couples to meet me 10 minutes beforehand at 6:05, and I tell them we’ll plan to start shooting RIGHT at 6:15. I also make sure to drive home how important it is that they arrive on time, because once that 45 minute window is gone, it’s gone. Starting half an hour late means we’ve lost a substantial amount of the light that we woke up so early to capture.

Washington DC engagement photographer

Q: How long do you shoot for?
A: My e-sessions last about 90 minutes, sometimes an hour 45. After that time, the sun really does get too high to be able to shoot freely anymore. The golden light comes at the beginning, and will generally dissipate about 45 minutes into the shoot.

Q: What if it’s cloudy?
A: Still a win! Cloudy days give us a lot more freedom as to where we can shoot- we don’t have to worry about the harsh sunlight. In my experience, spring + summer are the best times for sunrise sessions. Fall and winter tend to result in a lot of cloudy mornings, which is still great for portraits, but you won’t have the warm light of golden hour.

Q: What are you looking for when location scouting for sunrise sessions?
A: I’m generally looking for open space when the sun will provide direct light. Shooting in somewhere like downtown DC among the higher buildings means I’ll be working with diffused light, which in and of itself is awesome, but generally doesn’t give me that warm glow we’re looking for. Perfect example- whenever I shoot in Reston Town Center at dawn, I ALWAYS ask my clients to meet me at the top of the parking garage. The top level is open air so we have a perfect sunrise greeting us upon arrival. Once the sun gets up over the horizon a bit, we’ll head down into the streets of RTC, but I LOVE starting on top of the parking garage.

Q: I’m not really a morning person… why on earth should I wake up at such an unholy hour for this sort of session?
A: Just look here, here and here. Need more convincing? Check out this one, this one, and oh yeah. THIS ONE.

Virginia film photographer

Have a question? I’d love to see if I can answer it! Just leave it in the comments section.

Happy Friday!

[...] be disappointed. Waking up early isn’t the fun part, but it is so worth it! Check out this {post} from Abby Grace Photography. She explains better than I can why sunrise sessions are so [...]

Michelle Williams - November 19, 2012 - 11:33 am

I am not sure if you check comments on older posts but I sure hope so! First, I love your work! And that you are a believer! Cool. Second, I am new to photography, but I have read a lot and am having trouble with one thing in particular. At sunrise / sunset shoots I love the backlit look! But when I shoot these I never get crisp shots of my subject. They are hazy with sun rays :( I don’t mind that sometimes, but I wish I knew how to avoid it? Help? . . .

Cate Alman - October 28, 2012 - 9:11 pm

I’m going to have a sunrise session in the next few weeks and these images are making me look forward to getting up early on a Saturday morning lol. Especially that last one with the willow tree (my favourite kind of tree)! Where was that taken? It’s gorgeous!

Sophia Jordan - October 26, 2012 - 1:22 pm

Beautiful! There is something so innocent and pure about sunrise lighting. You know what is funny?? Since moving to Alaska, the times I schedule outdoor sessions have drastically changed whether it is during the summer or winter. During the summer, I have to shoot way later than DC summer sessions (because we have almost 24/7 sunlight here in the summer). Then in the winter, my sessions are usually in the middle of the day (weird!! Never thought I would recommend that time!) because the sun never rises above our heads (just stays on the horizon for a few hours!).

Funny huh???

Love these images!

Serena Severtson - October 26, 2012 - 12:59 pm

Great post, Abby! Sunrise sessions = amazing. <3

admin - October 26, 2012 - 10:00 am

Hey Alicia! I’d never force someone into a sunrise session- I just present my argument as to why I feel it’s best and let them make their own decision. If they really don’t want to do one, I don’t push it- it’s more important to me that my couples be COMFORTABLE than for me to get to shoot at my dream time of day. . Hope that helps!

Alicia - October 26, 2012 - 9:58 am

I love your sunrise sessions! Do you ever get complaints or hesitation from brides about it being too early for them to get up and be ready by sunrise?

molly - October 26, 2012 - 9:36 am

love love love love love! i am obsessed with your sunrise shoots!

Urška - October 26, 2012 - 9:23 am

So good written :) We have to try a morning session soon even though we just love to sleep :)

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