Have you ever shot an immaculate sunset with your camera and thought “This doesn’t do it justice.” Why can’t some photos capture the beauty and awe of a gorgeous sunset? The truth is that they can. Through preparation, technique, and creativity you can capture sunset landscape photographs that actually do the sunset justice. In this article, we’ll take a look at the key aspects of creating beautiful sunset pictures from preparation to execution.

How to take sunset pictures

Preparation

One of the biggest factors when it comes to shooting sunset landscape photos is of course the sun. Shooting at golden hour presents its own benefits as well as difficulties.

Weather can dramatically change the lighting of sunset photos. This isn’t to say that clouds are bad. In fact, utilizing the shapes and textures of clouds can make a sunset photo incredibly unique.
Check the weather for sunset photos

Check the weather for sunset photos

However, too many clouds can also block out all of the light and color from your sunset photos. Be sure to check the weather to make sure the weather won’t shut you out.

Most weather apps will also have the sunset time available. It’s important to know the exact time of the sunset so that you can arrive a bit early to set up your shot.

Another tool to use the app Photopills which allows you to track the movement of the sun at your location.

Photopills App for Sunset Photography

Photopills app for sunset photography

When deciding where to shoot, do some research and look up some other sunset photos in your area for inspiration. You will also want to shoot at a location that faces west to capture the sun.

Sunset photography tips

Use a tripod

Sunset photos require specific camera settings (which we will get to in a bit). One of those settings is a varying shutter speed to let in more light or less light. Because the shutter speed may vary, you will need to shoot with a tripod to get a sharp image. This is especially important if you plan on shooting long exposure photos. Without a tripod, handheld shots can come out blurry.

How to take sunset photos with a tripod

How to take sunset photos with a tripod

Using a tripod will also help you create precise compositions. This is vital when setting up your shot since you will only have a few minutes to get the perfect sunset photo. A tripod will allow you to have your composition already set when the sun begins to go down.

Best lens for sunset photos

Lens choice

Another piece of equipment you will need to think about for taking landscape sunset photos is your camera lens. There are various types of camera lenses to choose from and there is no single answer. The lens you use will depend greatly on the type of image you want to capture.

In this video, Nigel Danson breaks down the pros and cons of using a wide angle lens, 50mm lens, and zoom lens for shooting landscapes.

The 3 Best Lenses for Sunset Pictures

To recap, wide angle lenses are great for shooting sunset landscapes because of their ability to capture large features like mountains, the ocean, or skylines.

Prime lenses like the 50mm lens are incredibly sharp. They can, however, limit your compositions because you cannot vary your focal length.

Zoom lenses solve this by allowing you to zoom in or out to quickly change your composition which can be crucial in a time sensitive shoot for a sunset. A zoom lens that ranges from wide to telephoto will give you enough versatility to capture any shot you envision.

Exposure triangle for sunset pictures

Exposure triangle for sunset pictures

Every DSLR camera and mirrorless camera has a native ISO. Be sure to set your camera’s ISO at this native ISO value to maximize your dynamic range.

Next, you’ll want to set your aperture to a smaller aperture like f/16. Smaller apertures allow you to have a deeper depth of field. This is important when capturing landscapes that have features at varying depths and areas.

Lastly, your shutter speed will vary on the scene. You can utilize slower shutter speeds or even long exposures while shooting on a tripod to create a brighter image with a unique, painterly effect.

Long exposure sunset photography

Long exposure sunset photography

If you are new to taking sunset landscape photography and are not too sure how to decide what shutter speed to shoot at, you can utilize your camera’s “Aperture Priority” mode. This will allow you to set your aperture while the camera decides the shutter speed depending on the scene you are shooting.

The best camera settings for sunset photos will depend entirely on the scene you are capturing. To sharpen your technical skills, shoot in manual and learn through your mistakes.

How to shoot landscape sunset photos

Shoot RAW

Sunsets have an incredible amount of visual information. This makes sunset landscape photography a prime time opportunity to shoot RAW. Here is a video by Adorama breaking down the benefits of shooting RAW for sunset photography.

RAW vs JPEG  •  Mastering Landscape sunset photos

Shooting RAW allows you to retain all the information in the images highlights, midtones, and shadows so that you can utilize them when editing.

How to take sunset photos          

Bracketing

One of the reasons shooting a sunset is so difficult is because of the range of exposure in the image. Typically when shooting a sunset you will either end up with a properly exposed foreground with an overexposed sky or vice versa.

Bracketing solves this problem. Bracketing allows you to take a photograph with varying settings which you can later composite in post-production.

How to Use Bracketing for Sunset Pictures

Using bracketing you can capture two images in which the sky is properly exposed and another one in which the foreground and landscape is properly exposed. Using Photoshop you can composite the two to create a properly exposed photo in the sky and landscape.

Taking bright landscape sunset photos

Consider a graduated ND filter

Another way to solve the issue of varying exposures in your sunset pictures is a graduated ND filter. Graduated ND filters allow you to apply an ND filter to only a section of an image. This can be used to darken the sky while properly exposing the foreground or landscape.

This video below breaks down why a graduated ND filter is a must have filter for sunset landscape photography.

Vital filters for landscape sunset photos

Although graduated ND filters can cost a bit of money, they are an incredible tool that you will undoubtedly utilize when shooting sunsets or sunrises.

Composing sunset landscape photos

Composition

Now that we’ve talked about the technical aspects of capturing a sunset photo, let’s talk about how to compose the image itself. Few things have been shot more than a sunset. Creating unique sunset photographs can be difficult, but not unachievable. Here are a few tips to consider when composing your sunset landscape photograph.

1. Find a subject

It is tempting to shoot directly at the sun and frame it dead center. This is a sure shot at capturing a mediocre sunset photograph. To make it unique, try and find some sort of subject other than the sun. This can be a person, a landscape feature, a building, a bridge, etc.

2. Silhouettes

If you do have a friend around, experiment with silhouettes. Properly exposing a human subject without blowing out the background sunset is extremely difficult. So embrace the silhouette to create unique profile shots.

Silhouette in beautiful sunset pictures

Silhouette in beautiful sunset pictures

3. Use your environment

A sunset photo is only as good as the location you are shooting at. Utilizing this location’s strengths will help give you a direction for your sunset photos. If you are shooting at the beach utilize the water and movement of the ocean with long exposure shots.

Sunset pictures with Waves at the Ocean Tutorial

Remember, in sunset photography the sun does not always have to be the center of your composition. Composition of sunset photos is no different than composing any other photography. Trust your eye and your intuition and utilize the landscapes around you.

Tips for shooting sunset photos

Stay after the sun sets

One of the biggest mistakes a photographer can make when shooting sunset pictures is to immediately pack up after the sun dips below the horizon. Arguably the best time to photograph sunset is right after the sun actually sets. Be patient once the sunsets and stick around to see how the light and color changes. Don’t wrap your sunset photoshoot immediately after the sun sets.

Like we mentioned earlier, sunsets are one of the most beautiful settings to shoot, but also one of the most common things to shoot. Creating beautiful sunset pictures will depend on your eye and your style.

Like any other practice of photography, experimenting and getting creative will result in a unique shot. Luckily, sunsets happen literally every day. So there are no shortages of sunsets to practice shooting.

UP NEXT

When is Golden Hour?

Sunset and sunrise fall under the time that photographers and cinematographers refer to as golden hour. Golden hour naturally produces beautiful light that allows photographers with only a camera to capture amazing images. Learn more about golden hour and how to shoot during it in our next article.

Up Next: When is Golden Hour? →
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