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Top Ten Sunset Photography Tips And Tricks

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Category: Landscape and Travel

Ten Top Sunset Photography Tips - How to turn your quick sunset snap into something which packs a serious punch.

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Article updated Jan 2012

Wherever you are there’s usually an opportunity to photograph a sun setting over the horizon with all its golden colours. You might point and shoot to get a decent record, but much more could be achieved with just a little extra thought.

Sunset over a beach

Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

Gear

A tripod is essential for sunset photography as small apertures can mean longer exposure times and hand-holding the shot can result in shake. You need a strong tripod that offers stability but if it's too heavy it'll be hard to carry. A model such as those you'll find in Vanguard's Alta Pro range, which includes the award-winning Alta Pro 263AT, are ideal as they are light-weight but have features such as spiked feet to keep your tripod fixed and steady. They also have a Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC) System which allows users to move the central column from zero to 180-degree angles in variable vertical and horizontal positions which gives you more shooting options.

You'll no doubt pack your wider lenses but consider taking a lens that has a longer reach too to pull distant hills closer to you.

You should also consider packing an ND graduated filter as it'll help balance the brighter sky with the darker land and remember to pack a torch so you can see where you're going once the sun's set.


Research

Although we always encourage people to look for their own angles, browsing ePHOTOzine's gallery for inspiration and looking at our photography locations will mean you don't have to waster precious hours walking for miles until you find a perfect location. Places where you have good foreground and background interest are particularly great for sunsets.

This time of year's a good time to be shooting sunsets as the sun's still going down at a reasonable hour so make the most of it. In a few months you'll have to waiting up much longer to see the sun set.

Spiegel sunset
Photo by Peter Bargh

Look after your eyes

Before you go out and shoot the sun, a word of warning: WATCH YOUR EYES. We don’t have to remind you that staring at the sun will damage your eyes, and pointing a lens that’s potentially a magnifier will increase this risk. To be on the safe side always frame up with the sun just out of shot and then quickly reposition to take the photo and don't look directly at the sun. If you're using a long lens try to avoid looking through the viewfinder at all when the sun is in the frame. This may not be an easy task, but playing safe is better than damaging your eyesight. You can use something solid to shield the lens from the direct sun, or wait the sun is very low in the sky and diffused by haze, cloud and pollution.

Planning

The weather is unpredictable so check it regularly for a few days before your shoot. A clear sky is great but don't over look days where there's going to be a little cloud cover or haze as it can can create interesting patterns and colour.

You need to be at your location well before the sun sets as once it begins to go down, you'll find out just how quickly it shifts and if you're still setting up your gear chances are you'll miss your shot. It can quickly move from having amazing colours to something completely different and dull so shoot quickly and often.

By arriving early you’ll also have time take a good look at the scene, or you may have an opportunity to return the next day so you can have a rehearsal. As the sun goes down it follows an arc so you can work out where it will be on the horizon, and if you’re in an unsuitable spot you will be able to move location to get a better view.

If you know where the sun will set you can ensure you are in the most advantageous spot to get a good composition. You may want the tree branches framing the sun, a building obscuring part of it or some useful foreground detail adding depth. The worst sunset pictures are those where the horizon splits the picture across the middle so by adding a tree, church spire, foreground detail or even a person silhouetted to your shot you'll have something else to attract your eye and keep you interested in the shot.

Look for locations where foreground detail can lead the eye through the shot. This could be a path, fence or stream. Objects such as trees, rocks and structures will give you foreground detail that's not only interesting but it will help create a composition that's much more three-dimensional. You can also use branches, windows in structures, gates and doorways as frames. If you find them to be too distracting, throw them out of focus.

Sunset

Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

Depth of field

With most landscapes you'll want everything to be sharp and a small aperture setting is the simplest way to do this. This does mean less light will be able to reach your camera's sensor so you'll need to either increase your ISO or use a slower shutter speed.

You'll often focus on infinity, but your autofocus camera may be fooled if there's a lack of contrast. Try switching to manual if AF struggles, or try using the landscape focus mode if working with a compact so the camera knows you want to take a shot that has a greater depth of field. If you want to include some foreground detail you'll probably need to pre-focus on that to avoid it looking blurred and you'll have to use a small aperture to ensure the background comes out sharp too.

Metering

Your cameras meter can be fooled into producing the wrong exposure, especially when centre-weighted meters are used or when the sun is in the centre of the frame on matrix pattern mode. In these cases the sun is seen as the most important part of the scene so the metering adjust accordingly. This will result in a correctly exposed ball of orange with a very dark surround.

If you compensate by using the technique of pointing down at the ground and locking the exposure you may find the sky washed out with the sun disappearing into this overexposed expanse of sky. The best thing to do is point the camera at the sky and move position so the sun is just out of the frame. Take a reading and use the exposure lock or set the exposure manually with this reading as reference. This ensures you open up a stop or two so that the surrounds have a little more detail in the shadow areas.

White balance

To enhance the colours of your sunset further take your camera off auto white-balance mode and use the shade or cloud setting to give the sunset colours a bit of a boost.


Flash

If your camera has a built-in flash you could set an exposure that would underexpose the background and allow the flash to provide the correctly exposed foreground detail, giving you a shot that's slightly different to the sunset photos we are used to seeing.

Horizons

Try and avoid putting the horizon in the center of the image because as mentioned, it can be a little boring. If the sky's full of colour, lower the horizon but if it's the ground you want to make more of a feature of, nudge the horizon up a bit.

Don't forget to check that the horizon's straight before you take your shot as you don't want it to look like your pier, tree or whatever is in your foreground is about to fall out of shot.


Sunset at the coast

Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

The sun

Just because you're photographing a sunset it doesn't mean the sun has to sit in the middle of your shot. Placing the sun to one side of the photograph helps the viewer focus on other areas of the picture and stops them thinking that the sun is the only important point of the photograph.

You'll most likely be tempted to shoot in horizontal format, but turning the camera on its side adds some foreground shape making the final result more interesting. A tighter crop in a vertical format is a good way to draw attention to other parts of an image such as the sunset in a reflection, giving you a shot that's still a sunset but it's executed in a way that's less common, giving you an image that's more individual.

If you're shooting silhouettes bold, unfussy subjects that have an instant recognisable shape work the best. A telephoto lens will help you achieve a tighter composition that works well when working with silhouettes at sunset.


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Comments

JackAllTog
JackAllTog e2 Member 53469 forum postsJackAllTog vcard United Kingdom58 Constructive Critique Points
22 Feb 2012 - 5:51 PM

"White balance - To enhance the colours of your sunset further take your camera off auto white-balance mode and use the shade or cloud setting to give the sunset colours a bit of a boost. "

I typically shoot in RAW, but would like to try this out some more. Thanks.

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14 Feb 2014 - 10:03 AM

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RomABP
RomABP 
14 Feb 2014 - 10:03 AM

I am at awe at the photos above Grin I really appreciate these tips and do plan to take them by heart. Being a beginner at photography, I am very much open to some useful tips of the trade. I wish to be an excellent photographer one day.

Regards,
Rom of ABP - AmandaBarkerPhotography, Canada

assydanut
16 Mar 2014 - 10:35 PM

Siendo un principiante en la fotografía, estoy muy abierto a algunos consejos útiles del oficio. Quiero ser un excelente fotógrafo de un día.

Last Modified By Moderator Team at 17 Mar 2014 - 9:18 AM
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