25 Tips for Amazing Sunset Photos


Priyanka Chharia tells you how to capture mesmerising sunset photographs by keeping a few simple things in mind.

Sunsets are not only one of the most dynamic times of the day, but most often, they also make for exceedingly soothing moments. Interestingly, no two sunsets are ever alike. They offer a wide range of colour—from deep reds and golden oranges to shades of tranquil pinks and violets.

As a photographer, there can hardly be a better time to bring out your camera and just shoot! Nonetheless, sunsets can also prove to be tricky subjects, for even the most advanced photographer. Thus, remember these easy tips that will guide you towards capturing a stunning sunset, the next time you see it.

While photographing sunsets, it is mandatory to compose your frame perfectly. Keep the crop tight and avoid clutter. Photograph/S P Mukherji

While photographing sunsets, it is mandatory to compose your frame perfectly. Keep the crop tight and avoid clutter. Photograph/S P Mukherji

1. Be Prepared and Reach
Early The first step towards photographing a gorgeous sunset is to reach the spot a couple of hours well in advance. This will not only let you observe the changing light, but will also help you find interesting subjects and vantage points. Additionally, be aware of the sunset timings in your city as they are bound to vary from place to place, and month to month.

2. Work Quickly
You only have a window of few minutes before the sun swiftly disappears over the horizon. You need to be agile and move around quickly in order to keep pace with the setting sun. Keep your camera ready at all times to reduce your chances of missing a stunning sunset.

3. Shoot in RAW
Sunset scenes involve a variety of light and dark areas. It is best to shoot in RAW to be able to retrieve shadow and highlight detail. Certain in-camera modes like Active D-Lighting or Dynamic Range Optimiser also help you extract maximum detail.

4. Choosing the Right White Balance
The changing colours of sunsets are pretty rich, and often, Auto White Balance does not do justice to them. The use of warm presets like Cloudy or Shade WB can help you be faithful to the original colours and even enhance them to a greater extent.

5. Look for the Golden Hour
The first and last hour of sunlight during the day is typically known as the Golden Hour. All sunset scenes automatically give you the benefit of a diffused golden glow, soft, long shadows and overall warm tones. It is the most desirable time to shoot a sunset as the evening air becomes beautifully lit.

6. Create a Point of Interest
Find the foreground first. The recipe to a great sunset photograph is great foreground elements that add depth to the scene. These can be people, animals, structures or even trees. When including people in your frame, try to capture dynamic activity that can further help you tell a story.

7. Employ the Rule of Thirds
The rule lends itself very well to sunset photos since it provides a guideline for the foreground-background ratio. If you have an interesting sky, then you can keep it at two-thirds of the frame, while giving the foreground the remaining one-third. The rule also suggests off-centre placement of important elements.

8. Consider the Placement of the Sun
You have the option of either including the sun in your frame and composing such that it plays a dominant role, or making a photograph without the sun. In case you choose to include the sun, you can use a telephoto lens to make the sun appear larger and more prominent.

Experiment with angles and do not hesitate to stoop down or move sideways. Ask yourself what vantage point will make the scene look best. Photograph/Sandip Das

Experiment with angles and do not hesitate to stoop down or move sideways. Ask yourself what vantage point will make the scene look best. Photograph/Sandip Das

9. Be Aware of the Weather Conditions
Weather conditions are crucial to sunset scenes. They determine the quality of light and amount of cloud cover, which, in turn, influences the mood of the frame. The onset of monsoon causes overcast skies, summer skies tend to be fiery while winter skies are soft and pale.

10. Maximise Depth-of-field
Regardless of the location of the sunset, there is usually so much going on the frame that you would want every detail to be rendered sharply. Knowing the hyperfocal distance of your lens or shooting at a narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/11 will help you get a sharp foreground as well as background.

11. Watch the Horizon
The most crucial part of any sunset photo is the horizon line. A straight horizon orients the viewer and lends a sense of balance to the frame. So, pay great attention to the horizon and use the gridlines available in your camera to align your frame properly.

12. Include Interesting Reflections
When near water, use it to your advantage! Usually, when people see a sunset at the beach or by a river, they stand a long way back to get their shot. This causes them to lose out on the reflections being cast on the foreground. So, get right down to the water’s edge or get close to the wet sand on the beach. A wet foreground reflects the sky and echoes its colour.

13. Use Clouds as a Backdrop
The sky is usually full of various types of clouds, from wispy clouds to ones that look like locks of wool, stripes, horsetails and ship tracks. Incorporate them into the frame to make a variety of photos within minutes. Additionally, they scatter light and block the harsh sunlight from directly entering your frame.

14. Indulge the Playful Nature of Light
Remember that light is at its versatile best during sunsets. From well lit skies, wonderful golden hues and shafts of light that pierce clouds to long shadows that emphasise form and texture, you can find light that is ideal for photographing almost every kind of subject.

15. Work with Silhouettes
Silhouettes are quite graphic and help emphasise colour. They also add context to the scene—without these small silhouetted people, this image would have been just an empty, lacklustre frame. Look for subjects that have a clearly defined shape, else you will just end up with large chunks of black.

16. Shoot from a Distance
While you can choose to zoom into your subject, shooting at the wide end helps when you wish to show the grandeur of the scene. This can look especially good before the sun sets, at a time when the skies are dramatic and the entire place is baked in warm light.

You do not need to hunt for exotic locations while photographing sunsets. Photograph your house at sundown, it will lend a personal touch to your image. Photograph/Amit Kumar

You do not need to hunt for exotic locations while photographing sunsets. Photograph your house at sundown, it will lend a personal touch to your image. Photograph/Amit Kumar

17. Look for the Second Sunset
Sometimes the best sunset photos are made well after the sun has set, but most photographers tend to miss this window of time. Stay longer at the location. The sky will stay lit with colour about 25 minutes after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

18. Balance Negative and Positive Space
You have the choice between showcasing a vast expanse of sky or an interesting foreground. Alternatively, you could fill the frame with only colour. Thus, you need to balance these options in the right proportions, so that you achieve an image that makes effective use of positive and negative space.

19. Experiment with Bracketing
Remember, in sunsets, the ‘correct’ exposure may not be ideal. In fact, slight underexposure frame can make the sky even more dramatic. If the foreground subject is important, as in this case, use bracketing to decide which exposure gives enough detail in the shadows without blowing out the highlights.

20. Explore Local Topography
People usually think of the beach or the bank of a river when they think of sunsets. However, good sunset photos can even be made from the terrace of your building! From canopies of trees, urban cityscapes, monuments, hillside areas to mountain ranges, there are a variety of options to explore.

21. Working with Colour Modes
In order to exaggerate nature’s original colour palette, you can use a variety of in-camera options such as the Vivid colour mode and the Sunset scene mode. Both these options can further enhance the deep tones of your image. You can also tweak colours by adjusting saturation levels.

22. Bring Out the Character of a Subject
You can select a protagonist other than the sunset and make it the star of your image. The setting sun might bring out and embellish the true character of a particular structure. For instance, the solitary feel of this location is further enhanced by the moody hues of evening light.

23. Try an Unusual Approach
Sunsets are one of the most photographed subjects. So, you need to ask yourself what it is that you can do to make a sunset photo your own. This might mean a simple change in vantage point, using a minimalist approach or even shooting blur! The point of the exercise is to showcase a hitherto unseen aspect of one of the world’s most popular subjects.

24. Harness the Power of Tonality
The most striking aspect of shooting a sunset is the spectacular riot of colours and the gradation of tones. You can explore palettes of reds, oranges, pinks, blues and violets found during twilight, the time between sunsets and dusk. To ensure that this tonality is captured well, reduce the contrast levels settings of your camera and increase saturation.

25. Be a Storyteller
Work patiently and find a story to narrate using a sunset as your basic theme. Like in this image, remember that it is not mandatory to photograph people or action. You can choose to shoot a quiet cottage and still communicate a worthwhile tale.

Tags: Shooting Technique, sunset, better photography, Priyanka Chharia, october 2012, how to shoot sunsets, tips for shooting sunsets, best sunset photos