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Rise and Shine - Filming a Sunrise



It’s 5 o’clock in the morning and you’re already on the road to get your first shot of the day. Today, you will be filming a #sunrise. But filming sunrises and sunsets aren’t as easy as just setting your camera up and filming the sun poke out. Surprisingly there is a lot of math and forethought put into filming a sunrise, and you must do a lot of this planning before you set out to film it.


First things first, you need to do your research. You need to know what time the sun rises, and where it rises. This is very important because you don’t want your camera pointed in the wrong direction and miss the sunrise. An easy way to know where the sun will be rising is to download a sun seeking app on your phone. Many are free. Your weather app will be able to tell you when the sun will be rising. I would advise you to arrive to your film location at least two hours before the sun rises so you have enough time to set up.


Since you will be setting up in the dark, it is important to bring working lights. I would recommend lights with a red gel over them, just in case there are bees around. White lights could trick a bee into thinking it is the sun and they will wake up and possibly sting you when you least expect it. Ouch! Bees cannot see red, so this is the safest color to have on your lights when setting up to film a sunrise. It is also important to make sure that your shot is captivating, I would suggest having something in the foreground while your sun is rising.


After you know where you need to set up your camera, it is time to prep your camera. If you refer to the exposure triangle, now is a good time to adjust these variables. The first thing you should do without even second guessing is lowering your ISO. It should always be below what is native to your camera. Secondly, your aperture should be open, preferably an F/11. Set your white balance and make sure you have focus in the distance, and now it is ready to get into the mathematics of filming your sunrise time lapse.


There is a specific three step formula that you should follow when shooting sunrises on video and you should know this before you arrive on set. You need to know your desired time lapse length, and how long you need to be filming to get your time lapse. So now you need to know your frame rate for filming the sun rise. And remember, your shutter speed is twice your frame rate.


Let’s say you want to film a 15 second time lapse of the sun rising. You want your sunrise to play back at 25 fps and you have 2 hours to film it. The formula would make you solve:


1. Figure out the length you will need for your sequence a. (15 second sequence) x (25 fps for play back) = 375 frames for playback

2. Next, you will need to convert your total to seconds. The 60’s will always be implied. a. (2 hours) x (60 minutes) x (60 seconds) = 7,200 seconds

3. Divide your total from step 2 by your total from step 1 to find your frame duration. a. (7,200) / (375) = 19.2 seconds


To make a 15 second time lapse, you must set your frame rate to 1 frame every 19 seconds.


Now that your camera is in position, the exposure is set and the shot looks good, wipe off your lens to get rid of any smudges, lock it down on a tripod and hit record. You will be free to let your camera do the rest of the work for two hours. Once you come back, you will have shot a sunrise time lapse, which is a great piece for any video production reel.





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