7 Tips for Photographing Sunsets
No matter where you travel, eventually the sun will set. You can capture rich colors, interesting reflections, dazzling highlights, and dark silhouettes that emerge during, what is called the Golden Hour. The Golden Hour is usually fifteen minutes before the actual sunset, until fifteen minutes after. During this time, the color, the clouds, and light change quickly and produce a wide variety of images.
Since the scene before you is constantly changing, it’s all about timing, the amount of available light, the weather, and the time of the year. The combination of these variables ensure that every sunset is different.
Factors to consider when shooting sunsets:
1. Plan Ahead
You need to plan ahead and be set to shoot because, as stated above, you have approximately 30 minutes to capture your images. This short time span leaves no time for choosing the right angle, location, camera setting, or any indecisiveness.
Factors to consider when planning ahead:
- check the weather
- the tides
- cloud coverage
- calculate your timing
- your location: do you want object like trees, a pier, or people in the foreground
- and anticipating what colors that evening’s sky will produce.
To help making these type of decisions, there are several smartphone apps to assist you. Two free apps are Golden Hour and Sun Locator Lite.
2. It’s All About the Clouds
It’s all about the clouds. If there are no clouds, it’s difficult to produce outstanding images. Heavy overcast skies block out the sun light producing no usable images. The most dramatic sunsets are produced by high altitude clouds because they catch the last red and orange rays of the sun as it dips below the horizon. Lower altitude clouds will not be as colorful but will add interesting texture.
Since the sky color changes minute by minute, it’s difficult to determine the best exposure. This problem can be solved by bracketing your exposure. Most digital cameras today will automatically produce a bracketed exposure. That means you get one image over exposed, one image at a mid tone, and one image underexposed. You can then select the exposure that you prefer, or merge the three images together using Lightroom or Photoshop giving you a more even exposure that utilizes the best light and color from each image.
4. Composition Is Key
Don’t forget composition. Follow the rule of thirds to place the horizon one third of the way from the top or bottom. Look for foreground elements to add interest to a photo. Use a tree, building, window, to frame the sunset. Look for something between your lens and the sun to produce an interesting silhouette.
5. Use a Tripod to Create Movement
If you are photographing a sunset over water, use a tripod so you can use a slower shutter speed to capture motion blur from water movement. This technique will add interest to your image.
6. Practice Being Patient
Get there early to set up and plan you shoot, but don’t make the mistake of leaving too early! The most vibrant colors usually appear after the sun has gone down past the horizon. The last 15 minutes turns a partly cloudy sky into a vibrant show of color.
7. Make the Most of Your Post-Processing Tools
Use Photoshop and Lightroom to improve tones in a sunset photograph. You can darken silhouettes for a truer black, boost the saturation for more vivid colors, or increase the sharpness for improved texture.
Remember there is a sunset every day of the year, so you have ample opportunity to perfect your technique. One last thought. There is also a sunrise every day. The same techniques used to photography a sunset, also apply to shooting a sunrise. Remember to work the shot.