How to Photograph Sunsets and Sunrises
By Diane Bohlen
1. Think Ahead
Look for a good place beforehand, where you can track the sun down to the horizon and where there are interesting foreground elements and silhouettes.
Sunsets only take half an hour, so be prepared. Find the time of the sunset and get there ½ hour before. Often the lead up and after the sun has gone are where you get the best shots. Check the weather. Clouds, dust and smoke make for interesting sunsets.
Shoot a variety of focal lengths; wide angle (short focal length, and zoom long focal length).
If you want the sun to be the feature, zoom in, but use a tripod.
Sunset without a feature can be boring. All photos need a point of interest e.g. palms, pier, person, mountain, boat, animal.
Use the Rule of Thirds. Place the horizon, the sun, a silhouette off centre.
It’s best not to use automatic settings. Unfortunately, automatic shutter speed can cause shots to be underexposed or overexposed depending wether the camera is using the dark foreground or the lighter sky to set the speed/aperture. Shoot a variety of exposures. Use aperture and shutter speed mode and take a variety of shots at different exposures. Don’t go lower than 1/20 sec or you will need a tripod. There is no correct exposure for sunsets. The key is to experiment. Small aperture f5.6 - f11 gives a long depth of field and can make the sun look like a star.
Bracketing: Look at what the camera suggests for aperture and then go up and down with exposure, e.g. 1/60 sec (f5.6 - f11) taking a series of shots with each different exposure. Some cameras have a special feature for bracketing.
e.g. -2…– 1…O…+1…+2.
It is best to avoid overexposure by using negative exposure compensation , go back 2/3 to 2 stops. This will keep the foreground dark and the sunset colourful, otherwise the sky will be washed out. However, after the sun has gone, use a long exposure (slow shutter speed or bigger aperture). You will need a tripod.
Auto exposure Lock: Another trick to use. It allows you to point the camera at something darker, like the ground and lock the exposure. Return to the sunset and shoot.. You will get an overexposed shot.
ISO: Use the lowest ISO as a high ISO will enhance the ‘noise’ of the sky.
White Balance: Use automatic white balance (AWB).
Vivid Mode: Use vivid mode for high colour and more contrast.
Filters: You can enhance sunsets by using a polaroid filter or neutral density filter.
Flash or Torch: You can use a flash or torch to expose the foreground. This is especially good for portraits. (1/250 sec - f8)
Some cameras have trouble with auto focusing on sky as it hasn’t got a focal point. So it is best to use manual focus and set it at ∞ infinity.
5. Look around You
Often there are good shots behind you where the sun is hitting the landscape.
6. Keep Shooting
The sky is constantly changing well after the sun is hitting the landscape or sea.
7. Post Processing
If you are not happy with your shots, remember enhancing them with a computer program can give you great shots.
Never look at the sun with your naked eye or through the viewfinder.
Watch out for cliché sunsets – look for scenes you haven’t seen before.
For some stunning examples and ideas click here: