How to Take Stunning Sunrise Photos at Marginal Way

Photographer capturing the sunrise at Marginal Way
Sunrise photos of Marginal Way
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed at 1/40 sec at f/7.1. On a tripod Canon 7D at 60mm.

On the last morning I was in Maine that I woke up to take sunrise photos at Marginal Way. When you are in a place that is so beautiful, you have to get up early to capture that magnificence. But, it isn’t as easy as jumping out of bed and grabbing your camera. There are few things that you need to plan out to capture that perfect sunrise photo. You need to be at the right place at the right time! Marginal Way is one of Maine’s scenic coastal walks, and I was able to catch the last of the blue hour before catching the sunrise in one of the rocky coves at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Here is everything you would need to know to take stunning sunrise photos by the ocean.

Photographer capturing the sunrise at Marginal Way
Large Wave crashes into rock during sunrise
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/80 sec at f/5. On a tripod Canon 7D at 70mm.
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Planning on Capturing Sunrise Photos

Capturing the waves coming in at sunrise at Marginal Way
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/200 sec at f/11. Handheld Canon 7D at 24mm.

Plan ahead! This is important as you don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark trying to figure out where to shoot. Ideally, you need to scout out locations the days before. If you are shooting into the ocean, you need to find something interesting for your foreground. It’s important to include elements that will create a sense of scale and depth. It would be best if you planned to be at that location 30 minutes to an hour before sunrise. To help you figure out when that time is, I use the app Exsate. This photo app is a great photography tool to determine sunrise/sunset, golden hour, blue hour, etc.

What Gear Do You Need for Sunrise Photos at Marginal Way?

Ocean Waves crashing into rocks as the sun rises
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/40 sec at f/14. On a tripod Canon 7D at 35mm.

The next step in planning your sunrise photo shoot is to make sure you have the right camera gear with you. I use a Canon 7D DSLR and a Peak Design Travel Tripod. The other gear you’ll need is a wide-angle lens for landscapes, a zoom lens for detail shots, and a graduated filter for your lens to get the slower shutter speeds to capture the water and the sunlight together.

Water spray at Dawn
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/40 sec at f/14. On a tripod Canon 7D at 50mm.

Sunrise Photo Tips and Tricks

Now, that you got your location planned out and you have all your gear ready, what do you do next? Set your camera settings before you head out and then adjust as you begin to take photos. You will have one set of settings before the sun rises and and as the sun becomes more prominent you will have to adjust your settings to reduce the amount of light coming in the lens. Here is a general list of what you need to set up before you head out to shoot sunrise photos.

  • Choose a low to mid-range ISO.
  • Choose an aperture for what you are shooting for – a small aperture gives you maximum depth of field.
  • Determine your shutter speed
  • Set your White Balance to Shade or Cloudy for warmer hues
  • Bracket your exposure – underexposure is often the correct exposure to start with; when the sun rises higher, change your exposure to EV-2.
  • Make sure you have a foreground to focus on
  • Use the Rule of Thirds & Leading Lines
  • Focus manually
  • Keep shooting – shoot on high-speed burst mode as the sun changes by the second at sunrise.
Sunlight captured on pebbles at dawn
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/40 sec at f/4. On a tripod Canon 7D at 18mm.

To help you out even further here are camera settings for you to start with:

  • Shooting in low light conditions before sunrise – ISO 400, shutter speed 10-20sec or 1/400-1/2000sec, aperture f2/8, white balance shade, or cloudy.
  • Shooting at sunrise – ISO 100, shutter speed 1/2-5sec, aperture f/14 (to enable sun stars) or f/6 for a fast shot, white balance shade, or cloudy.
  • Shooting at post sunrise – ISO 100, shutter speed 1/15-1/200sec, aperture f/11 for clarity or f/2.8 for shooting details and if you want light bokeh effects.


View of Pebbles and the Atlantic Ocean
Settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/60 sec at f/8, white balance. Shot handheld with Canon 7D at 18mm.

Taking sunrise photos will become easier for you as you get used to your camera and what settings to use. Go out and practice with the tips and settings I have given you. If you happen to visit Ogunquit, I put my settings on the photos I took, so you can try to take sunrise photos at Marginal Way. If you do, let me know in the comments and if you have any questions, let me know. I’m happy to help!

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Maine for a visit or want more photography tips, check out these posts for extra travel and photography inspiration:

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