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VA Beach photographer behind popular Instagram shares tips for taking sunrise photos

Local photographer Shawn Young owns the @vabeachsunrises page. His photos show off stunning shades of orange, pink and blue that come with the sunrise.
Credit: Shawn Young (@vabeachsunrises)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — With Hampton Roads sitting right on the East Coast, we're lucky to say that we can see the sunrise on the ocean. If you wake up early enough, you can cruise over to the shoreline to get some larger-than-life views.

That's something Virginia Beach resident Shawn Young does all the time.

Young is a graphic designer by trade, but he's also the photographer behind @vabeachsunrises, an Instagram page with over 9,800 followers. His photos show off the stunning shades of orange, pink and blue that come with the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean. They've been taken in different parts of Virginia Beach, including the Oceanfront and Sandbridge. 

It's a project he started in 2017 after he moved from the countryside of Oahu, Hawaii, where he spent his mornings at the beach getting centered for the day. 

Once he got settled in Virginia Beach, he found himself doing the same thing, and started taking some pictures to share with the world.

"It would just strike me, like 'Wow, that's a beautiful sunrise.' I'd pull my phone out of my pocket and take a picture of that," Young said.

What's cool about @vabeachsunrises is that most of the photos were taken on an iPhone, even though Young said he's used more expensive camera gear in the past.

Young told 13News Now that he hopes his photos can spread positivity on social media.

"There's so much negativity on social media. Taking pictures of a sunrise is only going to spread joy and good feelings to people," Young said. "In a way, it's sharing something good with the world rather than complaining and trying to make people upset."

For those who want to go out and get the perfect sunrise photo, Young shared several tips to give it a shot.

You don’t need an expensive camera

Young said that there's a tendency to rely on the features that more expensive camera gear has. When you're forced to use a cheaper device, you have to give more thought to your shot's composition.

"Even though the phone has a lot of limitations, if you learn how to work within its constraints, you can get some really nice shots," he said.

Watch the weather

Young said he'll check the weather, as well as marine and aviation forecasts, the night before shooting to get an idea of what the sky will be like in the morning.

While he said clear, sunny skies are nice, there's a particular weather condition he aims for.

"If there’s a thunderstorm in the evening and partly cloudy conditions forecasted for the next day, that will make for some of the most colorful and dramatic skies," he said. "Those are the mornings you want to make sure you get up for."

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Clean your lens

If you don't, you may end up with lens flare and light artifacts, Young said.

Go easy on the editing

Young encourages people to let the natural image speak for itself, even though the temptation to turn up the color saturation and add effects is real.

Get close to the water

Young said having a prominent foreground and a colorful background can make for a more interesting photo. 

"Most phones have a wide-angle lens by default, so getting low to the ground and letting the water come right up close to the camera can make for a really dramatic shot," he said.

Keep your horizon level

"There’s probably a metaphor about life in that piece of advice," he said.

Use the rule of thirds

Young pointed out that phone camera apps have a grid that you can turn on. He said if you use that to guide the composition of your shot, your pictures will generally look a lot nicer.

Look for new perspectives

In his last bit of advice, Young encouraged people to keep searching for new ways to look at a familiar subject.

Young encouraged people to support him by following the Instagram page, and leaving likes and comments. He's also planning to drop the second version of a photo book he released in 2019.

Share your photos with 13News Now

Got some photos to share with us? You can text 757.628.6200 or e-mail them to shareit@13NewsNow.com. We'd love to see your shots!

Author's note: The video above is on file from July 2020.