How To Photograph A Sunset

How to Photograph a Sunset

Have there ever been times where you wanted to photograph the sunset, but weren’t sure how? Today I’m sharing with you my best tips for how to photograph a sunset. I know it sounds like something that should be easy, but that’s not always the case when you are learning to shoot in manual mode. You will want to pick a day where you can devote the last two hours of the day prior to sunset to taking photos. You can use this sunrise/sunset calendar to determine the sunset time for your location .

1. Frame Your Photograph
Look through your camera. What do you see? Is it cluttered? How will the light effect the rest of the photo? Is it crowded? You may want to change locations or find a better vantage point if you don’t think you’re in a good spot. If you are in a good spot, you can practice taking photos of people, this is usually the best time of day for portraits.

How to Photograph a Sunset

2. Change Your Angle
Does your photograph feel like it could be better? Sometimes the difference between a good and great photo is simply the difference between standing or kneeling. When I’m at the beach I prefer to get as close to the sand as I can to provide a different view point. Something I am a stickler for is a level horizon so I try to make mine as level as possible in camera (while I’m taking the photo). You may also want to back up for a different perspective, or focus on a foreground detail with the sun in the background.

3. Expose for the Sunset.
This is something that I do when I’m not taking portraits. I expose my photograph for the actual sunset, not the foreground. Often times I take sunset photos at 100ISO. I do this because I do not want my sunset to be overexposed and I want to capture the vivid colors that might accompany it. It also helps to highlight the smaller details in the foreground like the foam ripples in the above photograph.

How to Photograph a Sunset
How to Photograph a Sunset

4. Wait It Out
The two photos above were taken only four minutes apart using the same settings, but since the sun was so low on the horizon, it made all the difference. The four minute difference was the time it took me to walk back to frame a wider photo.

How to Photograph a Sunset

5. Clean It Up
When all is said and done, you will probably want to edit your images to put a finishing touch on them. In the above image the horizon was not level and there were distracting elements on the right side. A quick crop and small rotation made a big improvement to the photograph. You can tone down your whites and highlights if the sun is too bright or add a little more vibrance to your photos to add interest. I also like to sharpen the finer details in my photographs, like the lighthouse and bushes above.

A quick tip to be able to capture sun flare in your photos, you will need to take your photo at a higher f-stop (try F/9.0) if you want them more defined like in my top photo. For a less defined and softer flare (my favorite), photograph at a lower aperture (F/4.0 or lower). You may need to compensate in both cases by adjusting your film and shutter speed.

The photos in this post are from a trip we took to Mendocino County where we were lucky enough to have beautiful sunsets for our whole trip. The lighthouse is Point Cabrillo Light Station, and the beach is West Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. I hope this post will come in handy during your summer sunset adventures.

Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!

This post is part of my photo tips series. Want more photo tips? View the whole series here.

17 thoughts on “How To Photograph A Sunset

  1. Great post! Thank you so much for sharing these tips. I’m always trying to learn more about photography and really appreciate the tip on ISO. In regards to #5, do you have any desktop photo editing software you can recommend? I’m currently using Pixlr but I feel like it’s way too limited.

    Thanks love! Lisa // Strum Simmer Sip

  2. This is a great post. I see hundreds of sunset pictures & if only everyone had seen or can see this post, we would all be looking at better sunset photos 😉 xx

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