It is not as complex as you might think. It also gives you greater control over your exposure settings. And it teaches you how light comes into the lens of the camera and falls on your sensor to create a photo.
Make sure you have set your white balance for beautiful sunset photographs. Otherwise, the colour shift will be too warm.
The Exposure Triangle for Sunset Photography
You want your image to be of the highest quality, which means using the lowest ISO setting possible. We know that ISO 100 will get rid of any noise in the image, which is especially important in low light.
Since your camera is on a tripod, you can use that setting. This is one-third of the exposure triangle we use to get a proper exposure composition.
Next, let’s set the aperture. As a general rule, you want your scene to be sharp and in focus throughout, from foreground to background. To do this, you’ll need to set you aperture to a smaller value.
For landscapes I take on a tripod, I usually start around f/11 and experiment up to f/16.
The last piece of our exposure puzzle is shutter speed. We will now set this to determine the exposure you’re looking for in your composition.
Shutter speed can be set higher to ensure a crisp, clean capture with no blur. Or you can set it lower to show movement and provide an ethereal effect.
A slower shutter speed can create a smoothing effect on moving elements within a photo, such as clouds or water.
Sunset photography also allows for using other techniques. These include HDR (High Dynamic Range) images and panoramic photos.
HDR images include bracketing several shots of the same scene at different exposures. You then combine those exposures in post-processing software. This produces a photo with a broader dynamic range.
Panoramas are also created in software. Stitch together images horizontally (or sometimes vertically) to produce a single image. This one has a much wider or larger frame of view.
How to Add Interest to the Horizon
We are habitual beings by nature, and usually stick to certain tendencies. When taking sunset photography, we have a horizon to deal with, that area where land meets the sky.
For most of us, our tendency is to compose the photo so that the horizon is in the middle of the photo, on a vertical line. That’s because centering the horizon in the image creates symmetry. And this is pleasing to the eye.
For landscape photographs, the problem is that symmetry can sometimes be boring. Our eyes need different and interesting approaches.
The texture and interesting nature of the foreground is a great reason to offset the horizon upwards in this composition.
When composing sunset photography, experiment with the foreground and the background. Make them take up more of the composition in turn, rather than each element being equal in the image.
Check if you have interesting rock formations, or beautiful waves coming in at a beach. Then give that part of the scene more weight.
If the sunset is bursting through interesting cloud formations, focus more on that.
Using the horizon is a great way to add interest and drama to how to photograph sunsets.
Why Shoot During the Blue Hour
Whether you own a DSLR or mirrorless, Canon or Nikon – you need to practise. We recommend that you shoot RAW, and even priority modes can help you out.
Many photographers new to natural light photography make this one mistake. They tend to think that magical low-light photos can only happen during the golden hour.
They don’t realize how the light levels can change. And create even more magical settings shortly afterwards.
After you got the ‘perfect’ light for your sunset pictures, don’t pack up and head home. Practice some patience, and wait.
Watch the setting sun dip even further past the horizon towards the time known as “blue hour”. Colours can become even more saturated and beautiful, and that’s where the real magic begins.
Some of the more beautiful colours make themselves known after the sun has disappeared below the horizon.
Sunsets are one of those natural phenomena that are mesmerizing on their own. They almost do all the work for us when we try to capture sunset photography.
Keep these tips in mind when planning your next sunset photography outing. Now you’ll have a head start in making your sunset captures stand out above the rest!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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