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How To Shoot: Stunning Sunset Images

This is how it all starts. At some point in our life we buy a camera, we fall in love with photography and for certain reasons, we get to love landscapes. And then, everyone's challenge and the Holy Grail would be to catch that spectacular sunset, the one we would all love to hang on our wall.

We have added a guide that if followed (in combination with practice) can bring excellent results.

We have also added some recommended equipment for all those who are thinking of buying their first kit or simply want to upgrade. All the recommended products are either tested by us and our readers or have been highly rated in various reviews.

Firstly we need to thank all of you who supplied us with all these images and advice. Unfortunately, we can't display the hundreds of images we received. We had to choose the most suitable ones.

Study Your Location

Why have we added this section first? Simple, you need to know where you will go before you even start. A good research usually brings excellent results and help us in making decisions.

Do you need to go away from where you live? Not really, not always. Usually you can find locations near home, places that you didn’t even know existed.

A good place to start your research is Flickr. We are not saying that you will find inspiring images in there but you will more likely find images that will give you an idea on how the location looks like. You can use Flickr images in combination with Google earth, this way you will have a visual perception of the place.

Check Weather

You have now found the location you wish to visit. Ideally you should visit it once and get familiar with it. Failing this, go there early for a scouting. However, what about the weather? You need to make sure you check the weather before you go. It is pointless to visit your location only to find out that it will be raining for the entire time you will be there.

Check Tide

The same with tide. Seaside locations usually look much nicer when the tide is low. There can be countless rock pools, sand patterns, wet sand reflections and much more found everywhere. Imaging the tide being high upon your arrival? All treasures will be covered by the sea. Obviously we are talking about countries that are affected by the tide.

Ivan Cajigas

Check Where And When The Sun Sets

You are heading out for a sunset. Do you know where the sun sets? How about if it is setting where you do not want it during this time of year? There is a very usefull piece of free software that works with Google maps and can show you where exactly the sun will set or rise at any time of year and in any location. The software is called The Photographer’s Ephemeris and can be downloaded from here.

Check Your Equipment Before You Go

One common mistake photographers make. Countless times we have heard horror stories from people. Batteries not charged, Memory cards and other accessories being left at home, even tripods. You need to check all your equipment from the night before and make sure everything is in order, cleaned and inside your camera bag. One handy tip is to create a list of things you need to do before going out for a photo shoot. Follow that list and you can never go wrong.

Natasha Balleta-Hatchet Pond Sunset

Do I Need An Expensive Camera?

To take pictures of stunning sunsets, you need the camera you own and not the camera you wish you had. One good advise is to know your camera, its capabilities and its weakness. You can take stunning pictures of sunsets even with a compact camera, just don’t expect it to give you superb results when there is a high dynamic range of light involved in a scene. This next image is a good example of what a compact camera can achieve. Scenes like this are very easy to capture with a compact camera.

Boracay, Philippines by Duane Middlebrook

Be There Early

The worst thing you can do when heading to a location is run late. We all know of people telling stories of driving fast, while they were experiencing a stunning sunset happening and didn’t want to miss it, try to avoid that. Be there early, relax and enjoy nature and nature will reward you.

You need to dedicate plenty of time for your photo shoot so be there at least 2 hours before sunset.

Devon, UK by Andy Keeler

Do I Need A Tripod?

Not a simple answer. If you are going to use a compact camera and very thoughtfully take some pictures, then you might get away without a tripod. However, you will need to make sure your shutter speed is high enough, in order to avoid shaken and blurry images.

If on the other hand you are using a slr/dslr or any medium/large format camera, then you will definitely need a good and sturdy tripod. It will not only make sure your equipment is very steady but will also slow you down, making sure your compositions are spot on.

We are recommending some tripods below, they are all great tripods that will last you for a long time, as long as you take care of them. Avoid buying cheap as you will buy twice (or even 3 times).


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Scout The Location

Walk around the location, see what it has to offer, find the spot you believe will create a stunning image. Avoid setling for the first spot that looks nice, there might be a much nicer one just a few yards further down. Finally, when you settle for what you think is the best spot on your location, make sure your composition is perfect. Settle for nothing less than perfection. Double check your composition and ask yourself if this is what you want, does it make you happy? Is it good enough? Try to exclude unwanted items in your framing, why crop the image later in software when framing can be perfected on location?

Check with your compass where exactly the sun will set and how the side light will affect the scene. In a few words, use your imagination to see how things will look like. Make sure you follow the rule of thirds and break it only when you are very familiar with it.

Alfonso Morabito

The Waiting Game

Here is when everything happens. When all is ready and double checked, all you have to do is wait for the right time, for the time when light will be at its best. So, what do you do meanwhile? There is another 45 minutes left before sunset. Sit down, relax, catch your thoughts and examine how the scene looks while the light is changing. This will help you estimate light developments in the future. And last but not least, it will take away all your stress and let you enjoy this beautiful experience unfolding before your eyes.

If you have a second camera, one useful thing to do is walk around with it and take pictures. You will be surprised how much nicer all these details on the ground look, when they are bathed by the low angled sunlight.

David Cidre

Bracketing And Histogram Check

It is good practice to take a few different exposures when the right time comes and you start making images, better make sure you have the correct exposure before you go home. At the end of the day, it doesn’t cost you anything these days if you are using digital.

One more thing to double check is the histogram. Make sure the histogram is correct as some times, we rely on the camera’s screen yet we forget that, last time we used the camera, the screen was set at its brightest level. This can trick you as the day light fades away and the screen looks much brighter.

Peter Adams

Straight Horizon

One thing you should be cautious about is uneven horizon. This is blatantly obvious with seascape and waterscape scenes. It is a shame to go home with a superb image, only to find out that you have to crop and lose 10% of it, in order to straighten the horizon. Buy and keep a hot shoe mountable spirit level and always keep it in your camera bag.

Raffaele Marra

Look Behind You

When you have taken the desired image  and you are the happiest person on earth, don’t forget to look behind you. Occasionally, you can find amazing things happening behind your back, as the light can play games in the sky. So, be prepared.

Frank Kovalchek

Beyond The Sunset

Excellent, you have your dream picture and the sun has just set, now what? Going home? This is a mistake you should never make. When there is high cloud in the sky, the chances are that the sky will turn to an amazing display of colours, even as late as 1 hour after sunset. So, find a different spot to make an image, relax and wait, again.

You might be unlucky and not witness the amazing display of colours in the sky but the thing is, you will never know unless you stay and wait.

Paul Gorrin

Reflections

Reflections on water can be excellent subjects for sunset photography. Water can deliver spectacular results as its surface reflects the colours in the sky, some times creating surreal scenes with full of impact colours. A scene can also be framed in such way that one can avoid the use of filters and by simply exposing for the brighter areas, the results can be stunning.

Maria Kaimaki

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Foreground

Foreground interest can create the illusion of great depth in an otherwise two dimentional image if used in the best way possible. Spend time to find something that looks very interesting, something that will look out of place or will much and give meaning to the rest of scene. Many times it is the foreground interest that enhances a picture and stirs a viewers soul.

Carlos Rojas

Silhouettes

Sunset images that include silhouettes can be equally attractive and exceptionally punchy. They are also fairly easy to capture, especially if you are using a compact camera, where the use of any filters is prohibited. Silhouettes can provide an impact that only the contrast between light and dark can deliver. So, next time you are out there, keep an eye open for those silhouettes.

Bill Gracey

Great Vistas

Some say that making images of great vistas or well known paces is a cliché. We often hear people saying that they would never make an image of a hot spot location because it has been done to death. Are we suppose to ignore those locations and simply walk or drive by? Put it this way, is the light going to be the same as it was when others took a picture there? Doubt it.

Breathtaking results can be produced when great vistas are included in the frame, as this next picture of Yosemite can showcase.

Justin Kern

Scotty

Snow

Although snow can wreak havoc on exposures and extra care should be taken, the results can be outstanding. Usually the metering system of all cameras gets fooled by the brightness of snow and will try to under expose a snow scene. You might have to manually add some exposure compensation and this can vary between camera brands. You might have to add as much as 2 stops of exposure compensation.

Raymond Larose

Mountains

Lets face it, we all adore mountain scenes and most of the time, all we need is a long lens to bring them close to us. You also have the choice of skipping the foreground finding procedure.

OK, if you are young and fit, you can walk or climb on top of them and find a unique spot with breathtaking sunset view. However, care should be taken as it can be extremely dangerous coming down off a mountain in pitch dark.

Daniel G McVey

Flying Objects

Flying objects can create surprising results if combined with a long lens. Air planes, helicopters, flying flocks or even single birds can become superb sunset photography subjects. The problem is that you have to be prepared and very fast as they will not stay there for ever.

Charles McCain

Leading Lines

Clever and careful use of leading lines is a common techique in photography and can of course be adopted on sunset photography also. It is an extremely useful technique as it helps to guide the viewer's eye into the picture and towards the setting sun or the colourful sky. Even man made objects can be cleverly used as leading lines in sunset photography.

Katie Gendreau

Minimalism

Keep it simple and not complicated. One stick in the water is more than enough to catch the viewer’s eye as you can see in the picture below. Usually simple and minimalist images are the most effective ones, as they allow the viewer to enjoy the actual subject and in this case, the beautiful sunset.

Longniddry Bay, Scotland, UK by Dougie Williams

Long Exposures

This is an old technique that has surfaced lately and has found an amazingly vast amount of audience in landscape and especially sunset photography. There is no doubt that the clever use of modern and highly sophisticated neutral density filters, can produce unexpected and surreal results.

Format

Because your camera’s sensor or film produces a certain format, this doesn’t mean that you should stick to it and forget all other formats that can give their own special touch to a picture. Portrait orientation, square format, 5x4 format and so on. A panoramic format in this case was perfect for the situation.

Rosemary H. Williams

Muted Colours

And finally, spectacular sunsets do not always need to contain vibrant and stunning colours. Some times muted colours can create equally beutiful results. This usually happens when there is haze in the atmosphere and the sun's light becomes diffused, while the sun is low on the horizon. At this point, not only we can stare at the sun but can also make images with extremely well balanced exposures and beautiful muted and soft colours.

We would like to thank you all for your contributions and offer you our sincere apology for not being able to include all the images you sent us.

We hope you find this tutorial helpful and, if we have missed something, you can always add a comment and we will reply to it.


General advice from our readers

One way of giving nature a boost if the sunset is not quite as dramatic as you would like, is to temporarily set your white balance to "flash", which produces a pleasing, warm orange, glowing effect without the need for filters or extensive post processing. - Just remember to change it back afterwards!

Andy Keeler


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7 Comments

  1. They’re good tips and some cameras have good sunset modes also. I usually use a T2i, but this was taken with a FinePix S8100fd in a sunset mode.

  2. A terrific check list with good information and some great pictures. The only thing that I would add is; most sunsets/sunrises are dramatized by the clouds. Ensure the cloud formations are going to be there when you get there.

  3. Thanks for using my image and this great guide! I would like to add one thing. Don't sell your sunset short. Even after you think it is over wait around, (and bring lighting to safely get you back) some amazing soft colors can be found for those who are patient.

  4. Thanks for including my capture – all the examples are wonderful and the guide is excellent.

    Many times a promising sunset comes to nothing… but there are just as many times when an ordinary evening turns to something very special! Readiness is all…

  5. One way of giving nature a boost if the sunset is not quite as dramatic as you would like, is to temporarily set your white balance to "flash", which produces a pleasing, warm orange, glowing effect without the need for filters or extensive post processing. – Just remember to change it back afterwards!

  6. jsut loved these suggestions and the wonderful examples given here. thanks so much for these. Particularly interested in slow shutter speed photos at sunrise or sunset.

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