Thursday, 23 August 2012

How to Photograph Sunsets - Tips for Photographing Stunning Sunsets

The effect sunlight creates on the sky and clouds during sunset are nothing short of magic. People see hundreds of sunsets during their life time, but every time they see one, they realize that every sunset is unique and it has the power to mesmerise them each and every time they see one.

Many people photograph the sunset in belief that the vibrant colours and shades they see would be captured in its entirety by their camera; only to realize that they end up captured a plain sky with sun as a little speck. Not to mention colourless. Here in this article we will discuss how to photograph sunsets and successfully capture the brilliance of the scene in your frame.

Photo By Luz A Villa

A Word of Caution

Looking directly at the sun will cause damage to your eyes and looking at the sun through the view finder is even more so. So if your camera has live view function, use it. Else compose your frame without looking directly at the sun. Pointing directly at the sun will also damage your camera’s sensor.

Get There Early and Stay Late

Once you have identified the general area photograph sunset, get there early. Scout the location and find out the perfect spot to shoot, look out for distracting elements like power lines etc. which you would like to avoid in your frame. Move around and look for elements that could be used as foreground if possible. Once you have decided on the spot, set up your gear, click a couple of test shots to make sure everything is working as it is supposed to and that you have got your composition right. Wait for the scene to unfold.

I would recommend getting as much as one hour earlier than the expected time of sunset. Stand your ground even after the sun has set and others have gone packing. Most of the time after the sun has set and half an hour has passed the sky is lit up splendidly in more vibrant colours than when during the sunset. So stays for at least an hour after the suns has set and keep your camera ready to shoot at short notice.

Camera Settings to Photograph Sunsets

White Balance

Choose cloudy or shade white balance mode to photograph sunsets as these modes will warm up the picture a bit and enhance the colours in the frame.

Photo By Thomas and Dianne Jones

Manual Focus

Set your lens to manual focus mode and set the focus to infinity. Else the auto focus on your camera will have a hard time trying to lock on to something.

Aperture Priority Mode

Set your camera to aperture priority mode and select an aperture value greater than f/16 to ensure that the whole of your frame is in sharp focus. Remember that slightly under exposing your frame will result in more saturated colours.

Photo By  Davedehetre


Set your camera to spot metering mode; move it to point just outside the sun half press the shutter release button to lock the exposure. Remember the exposure values, set your camera to manual mode and enter the values previously recorded. You will not want to take your metering directly from the sky as this will more often than not overexpose the image making it worthless.

Photo By Paul Bica

Automatic Exposure Bracketing

Set your camera to automatic exposure bracketing more. When this feature is used in aperture priority the camera takes a series of three shots varying the shutter speed depending on the value you have chosen to bracket your shots.

Photo By Kylekruchok

Tripod and Remote Release

While photographing sunsets you will find that many times you are using very slow shutter speeds. In those cases it is better to have your camera mounted on a sturdy tripod and use a remote / cable release to activate the shutter to ensure that camera shake does not destroy your precious shots.

Composition Tips for Sunset Photography

Focal Length

How big or small the sun is with respect to other elements in your frame is determined by the focal length of the lens you use. The longer the focal length, bigger the sun and vice versa. Experiment with a variety of focal lengths and see the effect it has on your composition.

Photo By Kevincole


While composing your sunset photograph, if possible avoid placing the horizon in the middle of the frame as it will have the effect of dividing the frame in to two equal halves. Best strategy is to place your horizon low in your composition or to remove it altogether.

Photo By Thomas Bresson

Rule of thirds

It is best to adhere to the rule of thirds and place elements like the sun, silhouettes, horizon etc. off centre.

Photo By Peasap

Try to Incorporate Focal Points

Picturing just the setting sun in your frame could work. You could get good shots but not great shots. Sun alone seldom makes a stunning sunset photograph. Agreed a close crop of the ball of fire is awesome but try to add foreground elements like silhouettes of a person, a sail boat, a tree, a pier etc. Include the clouds, Capture the whole scene. Apart from the brilliant show of colours, how you compose your frame, what you include in it etc. are the factors that intrigue the viewer’s mind.

Photo By Kevindooley