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Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images

Most travelers seem to subscribe to the belief that no decent travel album is really complete without at least one token sunset photography image. Despite the universal popularity of sunset photography, these pictures can prove to be quite disappointing. They are not, however, difficult to photograph well. Fantastic results can be achieved easily by following a few simple tips.

Sunset Photography Tips and Tricks:

Sunset Photography – Tip #1: Think Ahead

Occasionally it is possible to take a spontaneous photograph of a stunning sunset or sunrise and get beautiful results without trying. Planning your sunset photography for best results leaves a lot less to luck and ensures that you’ll get better results more often. You can scope out the best places to capture your sunsets before you shoot – perhaps even taking a day or two to search out the best spots. The most interesting places for sunset photography are not always the ones where you can see the whole of the sunset, but perhaps places where you can include interesting silhouettes or other foreground elements in the pictures. The sunset might last only an hour or so, so be prepared or you might actually miss the best shots in your hurry to get them.

Sunset  Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images sunset 4
Image by Ahmed Zahid

Find out about where you can watch the sun rise and set and get there at least half an hour before the event; the real magic often happens before the sun is actually in sight, or after it has disappeared over the horizon.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Different sunsets, with very different light patterns and colors, are reliant of different weather conditions. Unsettled or cloudy days often allow for the best photo opportunities so don’t just head out on the clearest day and hope for the best. Interesting effects also happen when there is dust or smoke in the air – just be aware of the conditions and experiment for the best results.

Sunset Photography – Tip #2: Vary Your Focus

A variety of different shots, taken at different focal lengths, make for an interesting collection of sunset photography. Shoot with wide angles for sweeping landscapes and zoom in to make the sun the central feature of the photograph.

Sunset photography-2  Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images sunset 2 3

Image by Ahmed Zahid

Always remember that the sun is only half a degree across. When you shoot with a wide lens it will be taking up a quite small part of the frame so, if you want to make it the main feature of the picture then zooming in (with a lens of at least 200mm) is essential. Support your longer lenses properly with a tripod to avoid blurring.

Be very careful when setting up the shot – looking directly at the sun, especially when it is magnified, can be harmful to your eyesight.

Sunset Photography – Tip #3: Use Silhouettes

All photographs need a point of interest and one of the best to use in sunset photography is a silhouette. This can be anything from a range of mountains to a tree in the foreground, a building, pier or even a person. Silhouettes add something extra to a plain sunset shot changing the mood and adding context to make the picture more interesting to the viewer.

Sunset Photography – Tip #4: Use the ‘Rule of Thirds’

The rule of thirds applies to all photography and should never be forgotten. For sunsets or sunrises it is often a good idea to place the sun, or one of the other features of the picture, off centre in the frame.

Exposure Techniques

Sunset Photography – Tip #5: Use a Variety of Exposures

Leaving the camera on automatic and letting it select the best shutter length for the shot doesn’t always produce the best results in sunrise or sunset photography as the light can vary so much across the sky. The shot will often end up being over-exposed and look washed-out.

This is the ideal time to start experimenting with your camera and switch off the auto mode. Switch to shutter or aperture priority mode and take a selection of shots at a variety of different exposures.

There is no one ‘right’ way to do this. Stunning results might be achieved in several different ways and the only way to find out is to try them. When the sun is sinking slowly there will be ample time to experiment and take a selection of different shots for a variety of results.

You might try using shutter priority mode and begin with a relatively fast shutter speed. Work down to slower ones as you go along.

Sunrise  Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images sunrise 1Image by Thomas Hawk

Sunset Photography – Tip #6: Bracketing

Bracketing is a technique used to achieve variety and make your shots just that little bit different. Look at the cameras suggestions for the shot (eg. f/8 for 1/60th of a second) then take several shots around that mark – both over and under (1/60 at f/5.6 and then 1/60 at f/11). You end up with a whole series of shot, giving you a selection of different colors and results. If you don’t know how to do this manually then check your camera – some have a built in facility for bracketing so you don’t need to do it manually. Check your camera manual and use it.

Sunset Photography – Tip #7: Use Auto Exposure Lock

If you don’t have an auto bracketing mode and don’t feel comfortable in doing it manually then check your camera for the ‘auto exposure lock’. This allows you the focus your camera or a darker spot and ‘lock’ the exposure it selects for that spot. When you then reframe the picture to include the lighter elements you will get a more over-exposed shot.

Sunset-3  Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images sunset 3 1Image by Farl

Sunset Photography – Tip #8: Don’t Use Auto White Balance

Setting ‘auto’ in your camera’s white balance mode means that you risk losing some of the warmer tones in your sunset photography. Try using the ‘cloudy’ or ‘shade’ settings, which will encourage the camera to add warmth to the shot. On the other hand, you can experiment with the ‘cooling down’ effect of white balance to achieve the opposite effect.
Other Sunrise and Sunset Photography Tips

Sunset Photography – Tip #9: Using Your Tripod

Longer shutter speeds and the heavier lenses used for longer focal lengths mean that a tripod is essential to keep your camera completely still.

Sunrise-2  Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images sunrise 2 1Image by Peter Bowers

Sunset Photography – Tip #10: Try Manual Focus

While it’s easy to let the camera do the work of focusing it’s not always the best idea in extreme lighting conditions. If your camera has trouble focusing your sunset shots properly, try switching to manual focus and doing it yourself.

Sunset Photography – Tip #11: Look Around

Sunsets create an amazing focal point for a photograph, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on the surrounding area too. The soft golden light cast by the setting sun can add a lot to a scene that might have been bland by day. You might find that there are beautiful shots around or behind you as the light changes so stay aware and don’t miss an opportunity.

Sunset Photography – Tip #12: Don’t Stop Shooting Sunset Photography!

A sunrise or sunset changes very quickly and can continue to produce new colors after the sun has gone. Keep shooting your sunset photography until you’re absolutely sure it’s all over.


Check back for more Tips for Sunset Photography!

2 Responses to “Sunset Photography 12 Tips for Stunning Images”

  1. […] coastal landscape photography can be done at any time of the day or night, most photographers who are consistently getting great […]

  2. […] Here’s some shots taken at dawn to give you a little inspiration to set that alarm clock one day this week and head out with your camera before day break. Looking for some tips on how to do it? Check out our Tips for Photographing Stunning Sunsets and Sunrises. […]

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