4 Steps to Shoot Beautiful Lakes at Sunrise

A pine smell drifts through the damp air as fog rolls over the silky smooth water engulfing you. The day’s first sun hits the mountain in the distance, igniting it like a candle in the most brilliant pink. The clouds explode with colour, making war with the rest of the landscape for saturation.
How do you capture that moment when everything aligns: those smells, those feelings and emotions… the magic? It’s not easy. The pressure builds and, before you know it, the moment has gone.

Lakes are an incredible subject to photograph at any time of the year regardless of conditions. Here are my steps to making the most of whatever lake you’re photographing.


Step 1: Preparation & Planning

I rarely turn up to shoot a lake at sunrise without having explored it at least once before, for a number of reasons. Exploring the shores of a lake for compositions and foreground can be next to impossible when it’s dark. It also means you’ve got some kind of vision prepared for sunrise. On the morning of your shoot, arrive 30 to 40 minutes early to give yourself plenty of time to set up and find what works for you.

Step 2: Foreground & Composition

Finding the ‘right’ foreground can be challenging. It is important to find something natural that isn’t too big or too small – something like an interesting medium sized rock or log. You don’t want it to overpower the scene infront of you, it will act as an anchor for the photograph, drawing your eyes into it first. Get low and get close. After finding something that works for you, line it up with a distant feature like a hill or mountain, keeping the horizon high in the frame. Remember the rule of thirds, share the space equally between the fore, mid and background – just don’t be afraid to make an impact with your foreground.

Bow Explosion


Step 3: Settings

There is no right or wrong when it comes to what settings to use but there are ways to make things work better. When you are capturing a lake scene with a greater depth of field, it is important to select a narrower aperture (larger f number) to allow as much of the scene as possible to be in focus. Shooting at f/16 will allow your foregound and background to be in focus, along with everything in between. Manually focusing to the prominent feature in the background, such as a mountain, will lead the eyes in nicely when viewing the photograph. From there selecting a slow shutter speed, as low as thirty seconds, will allow you to get a beautiful smooth effect on the water while adding some movement to the clouds. Keep your ISO as low as possible to reduce noise within the final photograph.

Step 4: Filters

Using filters will aid in the transition of light throughout the image. For lake landscapes, graduated neutral density filters work the best, providing they have a smooth graduation in them. A graduated ND filter allows the foreground and lake to remain correctly exposed while darkening the sky to prevent over exposure from such a variety of light. I use the LEE 0.9 Soft Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter (3 Stops). A less expensive alternative would be the Cokin 121F (Full graduation from top to bottom).



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Callum Snape is a Mountain Landscape & Adventure Photographer from Banff National Park, Canada. His unique perspective on the landscape extends to the personalities that find meaning from this same source. An adventurer through and through, he takes you to the most remote places, highest summits, lowest valleys and shows you the true wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.

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