How to Photograph a Stunning Sunset in Seven Steps

by | Aug 15, 2017 | photography, photography tips, travel photography

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Sunset Photography | In Awe Of Natures Beauty

One thing that never seems to tire anyone is a beautiful sunset. Whether you have traveled far and wide and seen the most spectacular things or not. Watching the sun go down in all its warm and vibrant colors leaves you with a feeling of peace and wonder. In awe of nature’s beauty. And you want to hold on to it as long as you can.

For years I tried to capture it, never quite succeeding. Always a little disappointed because it did not reflect the experience I had. But I have been perfecting my sunset photography skills over the years. I discovered the seven steps that are vital to creating the perfect sunset photo. And I would love to share them with you!

Step One: Before | The Preparations

In sunset photography (or sunrise photography) it is wise to plan ahead.  You can find information on the time of sunrise and sunset at your location in any weather app on your phone.  You can also ask a local! They can give you some insider tips on great spots as well.

Once you know when and where you need to arrive way before so you can plan your shoot. And if it is a well known, absolutely fabulous sunset location being on time will give you the best spot to shoot from. Use this time to try out different things like exposure, angles, lenses and white balance.

By the time the sun is at its most spectacular you are ready to capture it. Because once the sun is going down there’s no stopping it. You have a limited window to get the shot you want. When you arrive on time and are prepared you will be ready at the right moment.

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Step Two: Camera Settings | Take Different Exposures.

If you let the camera have its way it will calculate an average of the lighter and the darker areas in your photo. This can work if the contrast isn’t too large. But in the case of a sunset, the contrasts between the dark and bright areas are huge. If you leave the camera on Auto Mode your picture will become overexposed. So you need to take control and set the exposure yourself.

The best way to do that is to take photos with different exposures. To get a good exposure of the bright area around the sun you need to underexpose. If you underexpose the darker areas will become even darker. But that is okay because you are shooting the sunset. That is the main point of attention.

To get a good exposure of the bright area around the sun you need to underexpose. If you underexpose the darker areas will become even darker. But that is okay because you are shooting the sunset. That is the part that needs to be properly exposed! 

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Step Three: Camera Settings | Set the White Balance Straight.

Light comes in many different colors. It ranges from blue and cold tones to yellow and warm tones. To get the colors to look natural to us the camera has a tool called White Balance. It adjusts the color of the light: the color temperature. If the light is too yellow it will add a little blue. If the light is too blue it will add a little yellow. In a lot of cases, the Auto setting of the White Balance will do a good job.

But when you photograph a sunset the camera gets confused.

It will for sure think: “Yoo…..that is waaayyy to orange. I’ll throw in a lot of blues to make up for that.” And we lose all the beautiful yellow and orange tones in the sky.

By setting the White Balance to ‘Cloudy’ or ‘Shade’ you let the camera think it needs to add a little yellow.

And that is how we get those wonderful sunset photos!

Want an Overview of All the Ingredients that go into Photographing a Stunning Sunset?

 

Download Your FREE Step-by-Step Cheat Sheet Here!

Step Four: Camera Settings | Be a Control Freak

Yes, you are allowed to be a control freak when it comes to photography! So, if you are a little more advanced in your photography journey and you know how to shoot in RAW and Manual Mode, you definitely have to do that. It gives you the most control over the exposure and white balance. Shooting in RAW also gives you more possibilities to adjust your shot in the editing phase.

If you shoot in Manual Mode set your Aperture at f11 or higher because you want a large Depth of Field when you photograph the sunset.

If you have no idea what shooting in RAW means and Manual Mode stresses you out you can still be a control freak. Go back to Step One! Give yourself the time to make different exposures and white balance settings. Don’t be afraid to try out different combinations. If it doesn’t work out there is no harm done. More than that, you will have learned something you can use for your next sunset.

And who knows it might give you the push you need to get over your fear of Manual Mode 🙂

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Step Five: Composition | Rule of Thirds.

One of the most common mistakes beginning photographers make is to position the horizon in the middle of the frame. And that, my friend, is extremely boring.

To create a more interesting shot you can divide your frame by three in both directions. Most cameras have a built-in grid for you to help you position the lines. You place points of attention on one of the lines. It is probably the most important composition rule in photography. We call it the ’Rule of thirds’.

When photographing the sunset place the horizon on one-third of the frame, top or bottom part. This creates tension and a more interesting shot right away.

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Step Six: Composition | Create a Silhouette.

When you photograph the sunset your eyes and your attention is in the background. That is where it is happening. Way out there.

It is easy to forget the one thing that is right in front of you: the foreground! And that is a pity because quite often it is the foreground that can intensify the magic in a sunset shot.

There are a lot of ways to include an interesting foreground in a sunset photograph. The one I like very much is making a silhouette. Because it adds a little drama to the shot. It is the perfect way to get depth in your photographs. And it creates an interesting contrast between the colored and the black shapes.

So pay attention to your foreground and create a captivating silhouette!

Want an Overview of All the Ingredients that go into Photographing a Stunning Sunset?

 

Download Your FREE Step-by-Step Cheat Sheet Here!

Step Seven: After | Align the Horizon.

When you photograph a sunset you should aim for a straight horizon always. Nothing more distracting than a fairy-like sunset with a skewed horizon. It is the perfect turn-off for me.

When you do not succeed in getting it right in camera, you should align the horizon in your editing program. This is the first essential step you need to take when you edit an image.

Of course, there are some other things you can do as well to make your sunset photos stunning. Try increasing the contrast, the clarity and the saturation for instance

sunset photography, how to photograph sunsets, travel photography, photography tips

Bonus Step: Share!

If you join us in the Photography Playground Facebook Community you can share your pictures!

Giving yourself the time to prepare will also give you the focus to create a great sunset picture. Because it is not all about exposure and white balance and composition rules. When you are photographing you want to be ‘in the zone’. Get in the flow of things and be hyper attentive to your surroundings.

Important: Don’t forget to enjoy the sunset!

Maybe you are thinking: ‘Okay, but she has this super professional DSLR camera, I just have a smartphone camera.’ Well let me tell you, you can get perfectly good results with a smartphone if you know what you are doing! I took two out of the six pictures you see in this post with my iPhone 6s. Can you tell which one? Let me know in the comments!

 

Did you enjoy this post? Learned something?

 Share the Knowledge!

Do you wanna be a Better Smartphone Photographer?

You are in Luck 😀Christmas comes early this year!

 

When you enroll in Travel iPhoneography for Instagram (our latest course) now and you apply coupon code CHRISTMASGIFT2018 at the checkout page, 35% will be deducted from your purchase.

It's the Perfect Christmas Gift for you or for the one that's taking your pictures!