Sunset photography is a bit of a funny one really. It’s harder than it looks, but is often one of the first things that beginners like to try. More often than not though, the exposure sucks, and the post processing needs a lot of work. There’s more to it than this though, so lets get down to business.
This is a pretty simple one really. Find somewhere that works for you. The sun sets in different places at different times of the year so bear this in mind too.
I would have loved to have stepped out my door onto the beach and taken a photo of the sun setting over the sea at low tide, but alas, it’s setting behind my building at the moment.
The sea would have been really good, because reflections work really well with sunsets. Not only are they pretty to look at, but they help to even out the exposure too.
Silhouettes are also really good tools for sunsets because their shape and from can add an interesting contrast to the frame. Look for flying birds, or other interesting animals/objects to add to your frame.
Clouds are also really useful, so pray for a cloudy day. Not too cloudy, mind, but an interesting cloud formation will go a long way in the look of your sunset. If the clouds are on your horizon and blocking out the sun as it sets, then this is sadly of no use to you, and I find it’s best to come back another day.
High horizon? Low horizon? Rule of thirds? What do you go for?
Ask yourself this; what is so interesting about your frame? For me, it was the sun setting over the fields below. I took my photo from a national trust site in the south of England, so nature did the hard work there.
Beautiful landscape, but no clouds? Use a high horizon. Awesome clouds, but boring foreground? Low horizon. It’s simple common sense.
Try not to cut your photo in half. By this, I mean, don’t place your horizon in the center of the photo, even if you’re using a reflection. It ends up looking like a weird mix of two photos, and is generally considered to be poor composition.
Sunset photography is a form of landscape photography, so try to include a foreground, midground and background to keep things interesting.
Time of day has a lot to do with how your photos come out. I like to get to my location about 45 minutes before the sunsets, and (if it’s not too cold) stay for about 30 minutes after the sun has set.
The sky will change colour throughout this time, and it’s up to you to decide when you think the photo will come out best, depending on the conditions.
I usually find that about 20 minutes before the sun sets, and then about 10-30 minutes after it sets works out best, but I leave the extra time to find a good location and get set up.
This is harder than it looks. Shooting into the sun isn’t something cameras like to do because it has a hard time seeing the darker areas of the photo. The result is you end up with a much darker photo, because the camera is trying to exposure for the sun too.
I suggest shooting on aperture priority mode to start with, before switching to manual when it starts to not produce the results you’re looking for.
In my experience, when the sun is really bright still, it’s best to underexpose your photo. It means that you don’t lose too much detail in the brighter areas and you can still fix the darker parts later.
As it gets darker, you’ll have less light to work with, so bring a tripod. Here’s my recommendations: http://amzn.to/J2YiaK & http://amzn.to/KZHFZ1.
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I typically like to shoot sunsets at with a deep depth of field, which means a narrow aperture of around f/11-f/16.
Post processing plays a pretty important part in sunset photography because as I said above, the camera has trouble finding the correct exposure. Underexpose your photos. It’s much easier to fix it later using the dodge tool, and different exposure options.
Clearly, my photo is a panorama, which is a merge of seven photos, but after I had merged them together in photoshop, here’s what I did:
- Brought the exposure down a little bit further
- Used the burn tool to darken the sky very slightly
- Used the dodge tool to lighten the foreground and midground, leaving a slight vignette
- Opened the photo back up in Aperture for finishing touches
- I boosted the exposure of the entire foreground using the dodge tool again
- Increased the saturation by a very small amount
- Made the final crop.
Notice, I didn’t make any adjustments to the contrast. This is not necessary when shooting landscapes in the evening because the sun is casting a shadow from such a low angle, that there’s already plenty of contrast in the photo. Here’s the final image.
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