5 Essential Things to Remember When Shooting at Sunset

Both professional and beginner photographers delight in capturing the rich colors and magical light of sunsets. A quick snap on automatic settings will generally yield disappointments, however. These five tips will help in capturing those golden moments and preserving them for future enjoyment.

1- Plan Ahead

For photography enthusiasts of all stripes, it is a common habit to always have at least basic camera equipment on hand. A handy camera and tripod ensure that moments can be seized and amazing photographs taken. But while spontaneous sunset shots can be spectacular, the best bet for getting a series of ideal images is to plan ahead further than simply carrying equipment. Consider scoping out ideal locations well ahead of time. Because the golden hour of ideal rich light can actually last as little as half an hour, knowing the preferred site well ahead of time is a sound strategy. Ideally, look up the time of sunset and arrive early.

2- Adjust Your Camera Settings

First, turn off the automatic flash. A burst of cold light will ruin the rich colors of a vivid sunset. Then set the film speed manually. According to CNN’s travel tips, using faster speeds from 400 to 800 ISO is ideal for low light settings and sunset shots. Another setting to adjust is resolution. If it is an option, try a “TIFF” mode, says CNN. This option compresses images less severely than a JPEG format and will produce a richer image in a bigger file. The downside is that the memory card gets filled up more quickly; the benefit is clear in vivid results, particularly when the print will be enlarged more than the standard photo size.

3- Compose Your Shot Carefully

While the ideal location may have been scouted ahead of time, there is still experimentation to be performed at the time of shooting. Try varying focal lengths; a wide-angle shot can create a sweeping landscape image while a high zoom is required to feature the sun distinctly. Since the sun will be only a half a degree in width, a wide lens will not display it prominently. Try using a lens from 200mm and up. Use a tripod in this case. Whether wide or zoomed in, the photo will need a particular point of interest and a silhouette is a common choice. This could be a distant mountain, a large tree, or even a posed person. Also, keep in mind the rule of thirds. Do not center the horizon but keep it on the bottom third. Try placing the sun and key features off-center.

4- Find the Right Exposure

The camera’s choice for automatic shutter length may well produce a shot that does not quite catch the beauty of the sunset light. The result is often underexposed. Rather than relying on the auto mode, try switching the camera into shutter priority or aperture mode and again experiment, this time with different exposures. With sunsets, there is no one ideal exposure and trying a variety can produce stunning results. One method is to start with a fast speed and slowly reduce it to produce a wide range of effects.

5- Don’t Stop Shooting

Even if the ideal shot seems to have come and gone, do not stop shooting until the desired light tone has passed. Consider a few shots even past that point and start taking photos just before the desired point. Happy accidents can lead to stunning results when a plenitude of pictures is taken across a wide range of settings and light conditions. Sunsets constantly change over the arc of their downward progression with subtle shifts in light and hue. This is especially true if clouds are in the picture and the wind is moderate or high. Just keep shooting and then the true challenge will be to choose between the dazzling images captured across a variety of moments.

Other settings to try out are auto exposure lock and auto white balance modes. For the former, point the camera at darker places to lock in that spot’s exposure and then reframe the image on the sunset to produce a shot that is more overexposed. The latter relies on setting the white balance to shade or cloudy settings, which will add warmth and enhance the golden tones of sunset. Playing with options and persisting over the course of the sunset will help capture amazing images.