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Since the early days of color photography, people the world over have strived to capture the moment that the sun touches the horizon, and sets the sky on fire with red, purple, and apricot hues.
If you’re wondering how you can capture the same magical moment in a timeless photograph, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll share 14 tips and tricks to help you photograph the perfect sunset.
We’ve broken down our tips into 3 sections:
It’s always a nice surprise when a spur-of-the-moment snapshot turns out well. But the truth is that, most times, amazing photographs are deliberately planned and captured. The first step to photographing a sunset is careful planning.
Sunsets look great in just about any setting. Take some time to visit places and settings you would like to use in your photograph. Beaches and seascapes look great at sunsets, especially because the colors reflect off the water. But don’t limit yourself.
The sun dipping into a mountainous landscape or into orange sand dunes can both look amazing too. When it comes to cityscapes, sunsets can look incredible with a foreground of silhouetted skyscrapers, their windows reflecting the orange and blue hues in the sky.
It’s always good to make sure you have all of the equipment you’re going to need packed and ready, so nothing is forgotten. As a minimum, you’re going to need:
There is a whole host of other equipment that could be useful—for example, a wide-angle zoom lens, filters, and lens hood. However, it’s entirely possible to take great photos with the bare minimum.
Aside from your camera, a sturdy tripod will minimize shaking and vibrations when taking your photo. Cleaning cloths are essential, especially since dirt, fingerprints, and smudges can really exaggerate lens flares.
A remote-controlled shutter release is a must to eliminate camera shake and movement, helping you achieve the sharpest images possible. As the sun dips lower into the horizon, you’ll probably decrease the shutter speed, so minimal camera shake is essential to avoid blurry shots.
You may think that a clear sky is the best time to shoot your sunset. On the contrary, these types of photographs always look more striking when there is partial cloud. The sunlight reflects off the clouds in different hues to add beauty and drama.
Don’t forget to check where the sun will be in the sky. You can download an app to your smartphone to tell you exactly where and when to expect your sunset.
Using either your app or a website, look up the sunset times for your location and season. The Golden Hour doesn’t always last an hour, so knowing in advance what time the sunset will occur means you won’t miss out.
When you know what time to expect the sunset, make sure you arrive at your location at least half an hour before. This will give you enough time to set up your equipment, frame your shot, and get comfortable.
One of the trickiest aspects of photographing a sunset is getting the settings on your camera just right, as the brightness of the sun can easily cause your photograph to become overexposed.
When you know how to adjust the exposure triangle settings, you’ll be well on your way to capturing a stunning photo.
The aperture is the opening in your camera that allows light to enter. By increasing the F-stops on your aperture setting, you decrease the size of this opening, controlling the amount of light that enters your camera.
For sunsets, set your aperture number high—f/16 is a good place to start. This is a fairly narrow aperture, which will limit the amount of light coming into your camera. This should result in a wide depth of field that keeps your entire composition in focus.
A nice bonus of using high f-stops is that the narrow aperture on your camera will create help to create a pretty starburst effect in your photo.
However, as the sun dips further into the horizon and the natural lighting decreases, you may need to lower your f-stop number to adjust, and allow more light to enter through your camera’s lens.
Keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid graininess. You can increase the ISO if it gets too dark, but it’s better to decrease the shutter speed first and experiment with long exposure if you can avoid blur.
Modern cameras have great white balance settings, but you could also try the cloudy, shade, and daylight settings too. Often, different settings will bring out different hues in your photograph.
When pointing directly towards a light source such as the sun, some cameras have difficulty focusing automatically. If you experience this with your camera, switch to manual focusing.
Photography techniques can bring life into your photos by capturing movement, freezing moments of drama, and documenting narratives in slow motion. By experimenting with the exposure triangle—aperture, shutter speed, and ISO—you can find the technique that expresses your style the best.
Sun flares can either be a nuisance or a blessing, depending on what you are trying to achieve with your photograph. If you’re hoping to capture a clear image that’s crisp and focused, you’ll probably want to avoid them.
You can use a lens hood to minimize sun flares, or you can change your composition so that the sun is just out of the frame.
On the other hand, you may deliberately want sun flares in your photograph to achieve a dreamy look—so if you can’t eliminate it, try to use it to your advantage!
Focal lengths between 16mm and 24mm will help you take photographs of wide landscapes and seascapes, highlighting the effects of the sunset on everything within your frame.
Wide-angle shots will result in the sun itself looking distant and small, however, so if you want the focal point of your photograph to be a large setting sun, you will need to look at using something like a telephoto lens—usually between 70mm and 200mm.
Don’t forget that looking directly at the sun through your camera’s optical viewfinder can be damaging to your eyes, so be to make use of the live view feature on your camera.
One of the most important artistic aspects of photography is composition. How you place certain features within the frame of your shot can make a big difference in whether your photo is eye-catching or not.
Using the rule of thirds to frame your photograph will immediately help if you haven’t got a plan. But it’s not the only way to create a striking sunset photograph.
Another idea is to use natural framing by shooting your photo through silhouetted tree trunks or branches.
Experiment with all aspects of the exposure triangle and observe the results. Just remember the following:
You can use these settings to try out various effects. For example, if your sunset photograph location involves moving water, be it a river or ocean waves, you may choose to create a misty water effect, where the movement of the water is smooth and fluid.
To do this, use the lowest ISO, an open aperture or around f/16, and an exposure time of between 2 and 4 seconds.
Once the sun has set, there is a period of time known as the “blue hour.” During this time, the sky appears in a gradient that ranges from light blue near the horizon, to gradually becoming darker the higher you look.
Photographs taken during the blue hour are naturally striking, so it makes sense to stick around after the sun has set, to take a few extra photographs.
There is an array of filters you can experiment with to get different results. A graduated neutral density filter is often used for sunset photographs, to dampen the light from the sun and capture the rest of the landscape in more vivid colors. Reverse graduated filters are also very useful when pointing directly at the sun.
Capturing stunning sunset photographs is not difficult, but as with all photography, getting it exactly how you want takes practice. By following our tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to snapping sunset photos that you can frame and hang up on your walls.
Featured Image Credit: charloisporto, Pixabay
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Cheryl is a freelance content and copywriter from the United Kingdom. Her interests include hiking and amateur astronomy but focuses her writing on gardening and photography. If she isn't writing she can be found curled up with a coffee and her pet cat.
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