How To Take Amazing Sunset Photos

Cheese is one of the most amazing things this world has to offer. We all know this as it has been an uncontested fact for centuries. What food does not taste better without cheese, or at least some form cheese? Cheese set aside for a moment, I wanted to set aside a special blog dedicated to something as amazing as cheese and something that is near and dear to me… sunsets and the art of photographing sunsets.

For years, I have been an avid photographer, taking my camera wherever I go… throughout this article, I will be sharing some of my sunset photos with you as well as sharing some tips and photo suggestions I have learned over the years for taking stunning sunset photos. After all, with photography, your best friend will always be “light”, types, levels, amounts and angles of light play pivotal roles in how your photos will turn out, and sunsets provide ample light, obviously, so use the light to your advantage.

Here are some of my best sunset photos from over the last few years…

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Get out there early
You never know when the best and most beautiful light is going to happen, but it usually happens in a one-minute window, which can be any time within 15 minutes before and after sunset. Consequently, you want to be on location at least half an hour before the sun sets, to give you time to look around and set up.
Set up your camera…
Alternatively, you can skip the technical trivia below if it bores you; some proficiency with these things is useful to set up that masterpiece of a sunset shot, but not essential. More important is being out there at the right time. With that said…

  • Play with exposure compensation (the feature of your camera that makes pictures lighter or darker). You want to make sure that you don’t end up with large parts of your sky blown out to pure white. Remember, on digital cameras, you can always recover from all but the most terminal under exposure.
  • Set your ISO to its lowest setting on digital cameras. The sky at sunset is still bright enough that you can get away with doing this. It will also give you much more latitude for correcting under exposure, as per the above (since doing this in post-processing inevitably brings out any noise present). Don’t increase it unless you have to.
  • Set your white balance again, this only applies to digital cameras. Many cameras do a reasonable job of this in “Auto”. Others don’t; they may see too much red in your scene and try to balance it out (which is not what you want – the whole point of being out there is to capture these great colors). “Daylight” or “shade” settings are a good bet, but you’ll doubtless want to experiment with this. Every camera is different, and some are much smarter than others. Which brings us around to the last point.
  • Get to know your camera. Few cameras will get a perfect exposure all the time, and many will require tweaking every time. Some cameras are smarter about photographing sunsets than others. Many will require some degree of exposure compensation. If you’re using center-weighted or spot metering, you may find it useful to meter on one of the brighter (but not the brightest) parts of the sky, use your auto-exposure lock, and then recompose.

Get in the right place…
Move around as much as you can and find the perfect angle. There are an infinite number of angles, locations, and compositions you can play with; some ideas, if you’re out of them, follow below.

  • Use reflections off bodies of water, if you’re near one. Get down as low to the water as you dare (exercise caution), or do the opposite and go to the highest angle you can get at, to get an entirely different reflection in the water. Try making your picture near-symmetrical, or don’t, or try taking a photograph of the sunset through its reflection alone. Experiment! Trial and error is perfectly fine!
  • Look for interesting silhouettes. Try silhouetting trees, people, or anything else against the sky or the sun.
  • Try using your flash to illuminate things in unexpected ways. Make sure that your shutter speed does not go any faster than your camera’s rated flash sync speed; it will either refuse to fire or (in the case of off-camera flashes) cause a large part of your image to be blacked out (of course, if you are clever about it you can use this to creative effect).

Timing is everything…
Wait for the sun to be in the perfect spot, and then snap a picture (multiple ones if you have the film or memory card space). Exactly what is the perfect moment is a matter for your artistic judgment. If you are out of ideas, try waiting around for the sun to hide behind a cloud; more often than not you will get very visible sun rays coming from the cloud.

Wait around.
Sometimes the most spectacular lighting happens a short while after the sun has gone down. Don’t miss it! You do not want to find yourself on the way home (and, worse, stuck in your car) when the sky spawns spectacular colors, sometimes the most spectacular of colors.


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