How to photograph sunsets

Avoid The Sun
The biggest problem with sunsets is the sun. It’s just too bright. Unlike human eyes, cameras cannot handle high contrasts, particularly highlights such as a bright sun. So including the sun in a photograph will usually give you a picture of a big white splodge. Your picture will be overexposed with little color or detail.

There’s no easy way around this, so the trick is to either wait until the sun is on the horizon (when it’s dimmer), or photograph the sunset without the sun. Look for clouds to obscure the sun or photograph a part of the sky away from the sun.

Shoot The Sunset After Sunset
The sky often has the most color after the sun has set (the “afterglow”). Pick a day when there’s a sprinkling of very high, whispy clouds as they’ll turn a bright golden color about 15-30 minutes after sunset.

Find A Foreground
Pictures of just the sky can be boring so find a simple foreground to add depth and interest. Your foreground will be silhouetted, so find a subject that has an interesting outline set against the sky or reflecting water. In these examples I used piers and palm trees.

Anything below the sky (or reflecting water) will not be visible in the photograph (it’ll just be black) so crop it out. Position the horizon low in your frame so that you capture just the colorful sky and any reflecting water.

To photograph people, get within ten feet of them and use a flash (“fill-flash”) to add light on their faces.

I take some shots with no filter and some with an FL-D (magenta), to add some purple to the sky. I’ve tried other filters but they just tend to mess up the delicate colors.

Watch for Clouds
Clouds add magic to a sunset. The way the light beams through, or reflects off these changing formations is wonderful. Generally you want a scattering of clouds above you, but no clouds (clear weather) on and past the horizon (allowing the sun to shine through). Low clouds are tricky as they often obscure the sun and, even when they don’t, their colors come and go quickly. High whispy clouds are my favorite. They light up later, for a longer period of time, and over a larger portion of the sky.

Keep on shooting

I recommend the following book:

The Complete Guide to Night and Low-Light Photography (Paperback) 


~ by samgraphicdesign on July 16, 2008.

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