Sunset photographs are amongst the most commented on over at Flickr. They’re very popular just about everywhere. Once in a while I like to write a quick tips sheet for sunset photographers in the hopes that I’ll help someone get a real keeper. This is NOT an exhaustive list – it’s just a starting point. So here’s a quick list – 10 Sunset Photography Tips.
WARNING: Never look directly at the sun through your viewfinder – this can lead to serious eye damage.
1. Use a tripod. You’ll be dealing with low light situations. This means that you’ll need some help avoiding camera movement since your shutter speed will have to be lower. The use of a tripod eliminates the blur caused by camera movement keeping your sunset photo sharp.
2. FInd a compelling foreground object to include in the photo. A picture of the sun setting with nothing else in the photo for scale or reference can be pretty boring. Include an interesting foreground object such as a tree a pier an arch, etc. This adds depth to the scene.
3. Use manual white balance. Pick the “shade” or “cloudy” setting on your white balance, or better yet, read your manual and find out how to set a manual white balance. This will give you the chance to warm up the colors your camera is capturing.
4. Start early. While the best color comes right after the sun has set, you can still capture interesting scenes in the 30 to 45 minutes before sunset. There are some things you can do to make this fruitful. Use a ND filter to cut down the existing sun. Or try stopping all the way down to say, f/22 – and make sun flares.
5. Hope for clouds. Bald, blue skies don’t yield to great sunsets. It’s the clouds in the sky that light up as the sun drops below the horizon. On cloudy days, there can be sun breaks at sunset that offer amazing images. On clear sky days, avoid the sunset images and go for something else.
6. Reflections matter. If you can find a beach or a pond or a lake in the foreground you can make cool reflection shots at sunset. Go down near the water. If possible get in the water or at least near the water’s edge. This brings the reflection into the shot in a meaningful way.
BONUS TIP: Water can often generate clouds due to the increase in humidity so you get the bonus of water AND clouds.
7. Composition matters – even in sunset photos. Don’t put the horizon dead center. Try to consider leading lines that take the photo’s viewer into and out of the picture. Remember that the eye goes to the brightest spot in the scene so try to put that point in a place that is visually interesting.
8. Use your camera’s spot meter. You’ll have better control over the color in the scene if you don’t rely on matrix or evaluative metering. Meter a spot 25 degrees to the left or right of the sun. This will usually give you the best overall exposure for a sunset photo. Bracket just to be sure you’re seeing all the different possibilities.
9. Try HDR. Even though HDR is usually best applied in scenes where the dynamic range exceeds the camera’s ability to record data, HDR can bring about some very interesting results in sunset photography.
10. Vary your focal lengths. Use a wide angle AND a telephoto lens to vary your angle of view. A long lens will make the sun larger in the scene. A wider angle lens will make any foreground object more prominent.
Sunset photography can be fun and will help you create images that your friends and peers want to see again and again.