Beginner Tips To Improve Sunset Shots

A lot of people like to capture sunsets.

Canon 5D Mark III, 24mm/1.4 lens, ISO 100, F11, 2 sec

If you’re an intermediate to advanced photographer, you probably already know how to get stunning sunset shots.

For those of you who don’t spend quite as much time shooting sunsets,

I’ll give you a few beginner tips today to help you improve your photographs.  I’ll finish up with some suggested camera settings to help you get started.

A few simple tips can really make a positive difference in your photos.

•  Try not to have your horizon dead center in the frame.  There are exceptions to this “rule,” but in general, your photo will be more interesting if you give the sunset sky the top two thirds of the frame.  (See the pink sunset photo above for an example.)

On the other hand, here’s an example of an exception I made on a recent shoot:

Canon 5D Mark III, 24mm/1.4 lens, ISO 100, F11, 1/160, Lee .6 soft grand ND filter 

I made an exception in the above photo because both the sky and the reflection of the water were equally spectacular.  Most of the time, when you’re taking a sunset photo, the sky is the subject of the photo.

•  Set your White Balance to “Cloudy” if you want a warmer look to your sunset.

•  Hang around after everyone else has left.  The best sunset colors often come after the sun has set.

•  It will add interest to your photo if there’s something in the foreground, like the rocks in the above photos.  (This is true of most landscape photos.)

•  A longer lens (for example a 70-200mm set at 200 or an even longer lens) will amplify the size of the sun, if you want to include it.  (This is called lens compression.)

•  A wide angle lens will give you a sweeping/more inclusive, view.  (Most of my sunset photos are taken with either my 14mm extra wide lens or my 24 mm wide angle lens.

•  If you’re shooting on automatic, point your camera to the right or left of the sun to “meter” the camera and improve your exposure.  (This helps avoid blowing out the sky and having a black/under exposed foreground.)

•  Sunset photos are great opportunities for silhouettes.  If there’s something interesting between you and the sun, consider whether or not it would make a good subject for your photo.

•  Clouds make for a more colorful sunset than clear skies.

•  Don’t forget to look behind you when you’re shooting – a beautiful sunset can cast wonderful light in the opposite direction.

•  Don’t be afraid to experiment with white balance, exposure compensation, and focal length.  Even if the outcome isn’t a “keeper,” you’ll have learned more about your camera and light by trying new things.

•  Typical camera settings for the beginner:  Aperture Priority Mode, F11, ISO 100, tripod preferred.  (If you don’t own a tripod, try to find a good vantage point to keep your camera steady instead – a fence ledge, on top of your backpack, etc.)

In future posts, I’ll talk about sunset concepts for more advanced photographers:  shooting in RAW, on manual, exposure lock, bracketing, HDR, neutral density filters, reverse neutral density filters, circular polarizing filters, tripods combined with low ISO settings, long exposure.

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