Scott Alexander

Scott’s Three-Step Guide to Photographing a Miami Beach Sunrise

Scott’s Three-Step Guide to Photographing a Miami Beach Sunrise

Scott Alexander October 19, 2012

Often, I am asked questions from photographers and non-photographers alike regarding the nature of my work, usually concerning some part of my photographic process. When the topic is a particular photo, the question is something like this:

What went into making this photo or, how did you do this?

While the subject in the photo that drives inquiring minds to ask is typically a beautiful model, the answer remains essentially the same independent of the subject. So today I’m going to present, in a simple three-step guide, the framework of my process for taking photos so that others may easily learn and hopefully benefit from it. In an effort to minimize confusion and maximize accessibility for readers, I’m going to outline this process by using as the subject one of the more commonly photographed (and easy-to-shoot) elements here in Miami Beach: the sunrise. By closely following this guide, the reader should be able to, with little effort, produce a beautiful photograph of a Miami Beach sunrise with almost identical results to any photo I may take.

As a note, the step-by-step guide that I present here is aimed toward the beginner to intermediate photographer so that they may develop and further refine some of the basic building blocks of photography which they can carry forward with them along their journey. And again, while the guide is focused specifically on photographing a Miami Beach sunrise, the process is the same for any subject, requiring only slight modifications to the steps involved. So let’s get started!

(IMPORTANT NOTE: each step in the process is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED. If you fail to complete even one step in the process, you will be unable to attain the desired results: in this case, a photo of a Miami Beach sunrise.)

Step 1: Start Thinking About the Sunrise and Get Ready!

Before you do anything, know what you’re planning to shoot. In this case, you’re shooting the sunrise. Think about it. Picture it in your mind. Think about what it looks like. What it could look like. Stay focused on what you’re going to do. Once you’re mentally ready, get your gear ready. Make sure that the camera you’re going to use is functioning properly, that the battery is charged, and that you have the lens(es) with you that you intend to use while photographing the sunrise. Lastly, you will want to make sure that the lens(es) you intend to use are clean and are free of debris. (Check them again while you’re on the beach before shooting.)

Step 2: Go to the Beach Before the Sun Rises!

The window of opportunity to get a shot of the sun rising over the horizon is small. And as you’re most likely aware, it only happens once a day. For this reason, it’s imperative that you either stay up all night the night before so you don’t miss it or get a good night’s sleep and set an alarm well before the time that the sun is supposed to rise on the day you intend to shoot it. (I tend to use the up-all-night method as I’m not a morning person and generally sleep through alarms.)

The sun rises on a pretty consistent schedule so there’s no reason to guess what time you think it might happen. You can find out what time the sun will rise over Miami Beach for the day you plan on photographing it at this link and plan accordingly.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the beach, park your vehicle, walk to the ocean, pick your spot, and get your camera and gear prepared to take a photo. Remember to include any additional time for anything else you may have planned for your sunrise excursion (such as getting coffee).

Step 3: Point your camera at the eastern horizon. Photograph the sunrise.

Logically speaking, if you’ve successfully completed steps 1 and 2, you should be standing on the beach, and the sun should be nowhere in sight. In order to photograph the sunrise, you need to know where it’s going to appear. This is easy to deduce. To identify where the sun is going to rise over the horizon, find the area of the sky that is most brightly lit as the day’s scheduled time for sunrise draws near. Generally, if you’re standing on the beach, this lightened area of the sky will be located over the ocean and as close to the horizon as possible.

Pro-Tip: On the eastern peninsula of any land mass, the ocean is generally located east of the peninsula. Hence the sun will most likely rise somewhere over the ocean.

Now that you’ve located the spot on the horizon where the sun will rise, get ready to take that photo!

Wait for it….
Wait for it….
Wait for it….

There it is! Take the photo! Take a few more! Take a LOT more!

Congratulations! You have just photographed the sunrise on Miami Beach!


Drop your camera over your shoulder, breathe deep, and bring all of your attention to this scene. Focus on the tranquility and beauty of this moment.

Bask in the morning sun as it climbs out of the ocean and into the immense sky above. Stare in awe at the impossibly-large mountain range of clouds as it slowly shifts across the backdrop of blue. Follow with your eyes the wide streak of light reflected on the surface of the ocean, from the waves crashing at your feet out toward the horizon, noting how the light of the sun reflects in a chaotic and everchanging stream of blinding, flickering little white lights across an infinite set of waves. Waves that, with each passing moment, move with tremendous force closer and closer to where you stand, sand beneath your feet and between your toes. Take in every bit of this moment.

Sunrise #429
Sunrise #429

While not essential to the process, it is important in life when breaking things down analytically (for example, when photographing a subject or studying a piece of writing), to remember to put the pieces back together and enjoy the beauty of the whole.

Pull up your camera now and take a look at what you photographed. Beautiful, yes? If you did everything correctly, the photos you just took of the sunrise should be just fine. However, it sometimes happen that things didn’t quite work out. This possibility always exists as there are any number of problems or obstacles the photographer may run into while taking a photo. Some of those problems can be connected directly to the process described here and some problems exist independent of this process. Let’s take a look at a few problems you may have just run into and their possible solutions.

Problems and Solutions:

Help! I don’t have a camera! Can I borrow one from somebody?
Absolutely! All you need to do is find somebody who has a camera and, just as important, is willing to let you borrow it.

I didn’t get to the beach in time for the sunrise. What can I do?
Unfortunately, in this case, there is nothing you can do about the sun having already risen. Thankfully, the sun will rise again tomorrow.

I couldn’t find the sun!
Was it cloudy? Sometimes, clouds will fill the sky such that the sun can’t be seen. In these cases, the sun DID rise; you just couldn’t see it. When this scenario presents itself, a number of alternate options become available to the photographer. One simple solution is to plan to shoot the sunrise on another day. Other solutions are outside of the scope of this tutorial.

Please note that if the sky was free of clouds and you were unable to locate the sun, contact me immediately for a one-on-one private session on shooting the sunrise which I will make available to you at the reasonable rate of $395. A two-day course on the subject is available as well for $695.

Special Edition Beach Zamboni
Special Edition Beach Zamboni

A wild tractor appeared!
That happens. Wait until the tractor passes by and take another photo.

If the tractor remains in your way and you are unable to photograph the sunrise, contact me immediately for a private one-on-one session on how to shoot the sunrise. This private lesson is available for $395. A two-day course on the subject is available as well for $695.

Three Step Breakdown. Seriously.

Ok. Well that was fun. While this guide is written somewhat jokingly, the three-step process I outlined above is actually precisely my process for taking photos and doing shoots. Put in different words, my process is:

1) Know what you’re going to shoot and plan for it.
2) Get to your subject and ready yourself for the moment.
3) Find the photograph and take it.

Consistently, this is the framework for every photoshoot and every venture out to shoot street photography. You have to plan, you have to know the subject and where to shoot it and, of course, you have to shoot it.

There are, of course, a few technical details that come into play and they vary based on lighting and subject. The decisions that the photographer makes with regards to those details guide the outcome of the photo. Subtle changes (such as how to use the light, framing of the shot, positioning of the subject, picking the focal point, etc) can produce vastly different images.

How to adjust and adapt to the environment to take more dynamic photos is outside of the scope of this guide, however. These are the basics. Happy shooting!! šŸ™‚

Casting at Sunrise #594
Casting at Sunrise #594
The Jogger
The Jogger
Sunrise #259
Sunrise #259, 8th Street

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