I would like to know how I could post process this photo to make the sun rise more interesting. Basically, what I am trying to ask is how to go from a relatively boring photo of a sun rise to something that catches people's attention.

_DSC2124Lake sunrise reflection 1-min

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you primarily concerned with post-processing (as in the edit), or would you also (or perhaps even instead) like answers focusing on how you could get more interest while taking the photograph in the first place? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 2, 2017 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is entirely too broad. Add dragons and explosions, That always makes things more interesting! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 2, 2017 at 21:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sexy young women and cute little puppies? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's... kinda broad. But I don't think we're dying from too many questions about actual photographs and photography. See photo.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5383/… \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:49

1 Answer 1


If there is a simple answer, it is the practice of experiment. Research can help guide and interpret the results of experiment, but it is not a substitute for doing.


In the days of film, a photograph might be exposed three times. Once in the camera. Once when the film was developed. Once with the image was printed. The exposure in the camera was the raw material for the exposure 1 when developed. The developed negative 2 was the raw material for exposure when printing.

Thinking about the exposure when capturing as raw material for later steps is the basis for the general advice to avoid clipping highlights and shadows. This lets the image capture the maximum amount of detail.

manipulation for shadow detail


There are two related questions:

  • What is the picture a picture of?
  • What is this picture for?

OK, the picture is of a sunrise, but is it for evidence before a judge or art for art's sake or checking in on social media? If it is going before a judge, the detail in the shoreline probably matters more than the detail in the clouds and the boat on the horizon matters more than the ripples in the water.

If it is art for art's sake, then who knows what matters? I'll give an opinion anyway.

Photographic Sunrises

A lot of our expectations about what makes a good sunrise picture is set by other sunrise pictures we have seen. To me, two common 3 characteristics of sunrise photos are:

  • Compressed dynamic range. 4
  • Brilliant color. 4

As a general approach, objects in the shadows at sunrise tend to be uninteresting relative to the subject at hand...the subject at hand being the light. The image with shadow detail moved toward and into clipping and the gamma adjusted to keep the midtones in a similar location on the histogram.

enter image description here

OK, I also leveled the horizon. Leveling the horizon is often the simplest way to improve a landscape photo. It is a way to say, "I care about this as art. It is not just a snapshot." For me, I think it is because photographs have hard framing edges that create an implicit horizon (and verticals).


After that it is time to find the pictures in the picture. Playing with the exposure at "print time."

low key

high key

The low key image pushed highlights toward and into clipping as well as the shadow detail. Gamma was adjusted toward black to emphasize the sun and contrast in the clouds.

The high key image adjusted gamma toward the bright. It did not adjust highlights.

1: Yes, I am pushing exposure by using it to describe development. So sue me.

2: Or positive. And the positive might go into a slide projector directly. So sue me.

3: But not absolute.

4: The influence of Velvia and other color transparency films perhaps. So sue me.


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