How To Take Stunning Sunset Photos
Sunset photography is very rewarding, before, during and after the sunset. Waiting to capture the right shot is restful, contemplative and peaceful.
You pay attention to the clouds, the shadows, the colours playing across the sky, sunbeams, birds or other flying objects, how everything around you is beautifully lit, and how the changing light makes each moment different.
It's easy to capture beautiful sunsets - all you really need is some patience!
You can scout areas during the day to find a great landscape to photograph, and return just before sunset/sunrise.
But sometimes, fabulous sunsets will sneak up and surprise you!
Learn to see sunsets in different ways and capture them in gorgeous photos, no matter what camera you use!
Hiding in shadows
Objects photographed against sunsets are deeply shadowed, suggesting at more. Although they are surrounded by stunning colours, the mind can still fill in the hidden details.
Silhouettes can be used to emphasise certain aspects - such as the jarring difference between the natural world and something like high voltage transmission lines, marching across the countryside.
Lights from buildings and cars may seem like jewels, floating in the blackness of the shadows.
Buildings are silhouetted and trees display their branching structure, especially those that lose their leaves before winter.
Silhouettes and shadows are best captured while looking towards the sun, from below or behind the object you want to keep in shadow.
Highlighted in gold
Sometimes the angle of the setting sun can interact with objects in unexpected and delightful ways.
A lantern may appear lit. A ship on the horizon may appear to hover on a cloud of silver.
Reflections from mirrors and light bent through glass or water can be purposefully used to lend an otherworldly light to objects being photographed.
Photos can be taken from the tops of buildings or mountains, with the setting sun behind you or to the side, to light the scene.
To capture snow on mountains, photos should be taken while there is still light from the sky above - waiting too long results in a purely black silhouette.
Dark rainbows, burning skies
Even without much editing, the incredible colours of intense sunsets can stun.
Clouds appear to burn, sunbeams sparkle in natural stripes, and reflections in water show movement. Clouds do seem to bring out the best of the colours, with some edges in shadow and others highlighted.
The sky as it nears dusk has its own rainbow of colours, a fiery yellow blends into gold, orange, hues of pink and red, then into the purples and indigo.
Often sunsets have mostly golden or red hues, such that the sky appears to burn. This occurs more strongly as the sun touches and sinks into the horizon.
In the light of sunsets, colours are often intensified. This is a great time to capture photos of flowers, insects and animals.
Sunset and sunrise are perfect for taking photos of other subjects. The warm and soft light brights out colours, masks imperfections and reduces stark shadows.
Outdoor portraits of people and pets work wonderfully in this light. Highlighting hair or fur with the golden setting sun looks stunning.
Stronger colours and softer shadows are better for flowers and macro photography.
Even food photography is better during these hours - the warmer tone makes the food look much more appetizing!
At sunrise and sunset, you can often capture light beams through the trees, and beautiful photos of misty and foggy landscapes.
Gear and training
Expensive gear, DSLR cameras and lenses, and hours of expensive photography courses are not necessary.
Even smaller digital cameras can be used, providing you can keep the camera still enough.
A tripod does help to prevent blurry shots, but can be unwieldy to move around.
A light carbon fiber tripod is fantastic for longer walks and hikes, but comes with quite a price tag. A monopod is much more portable, and typically less expensive.
Flexible bendy-arm Gorillapod tripods are great for securing the camera to a railing or positioning at odd angles.
A ball-head camera mount on the tripod gives you much more flexibility in positioning the camera. Some come with water levels so you can keep the horizon perfectly horizontal in your shots (no post-processing rotation needed).
Digital photography removes the cost of film development, so you can take as many photos as can fit on the memory card!
If you do have a DSLR, you can use any DSLR lens to capture sunsets. Wide-angled lenses capture landscapes, and zoom lenses allow you to capture a lot of detail.
Position yourself and the camera in a good spot, perhaps with a tripod, prepare to wait, and afterwards, sift through the less clear photos, and you will be rewarded with some truly wonderful sunset photos.
Don't get discouraged by blurry or less than perfect photos, keep photographing!
All of the photos on this page were taken by me, without having taken a photography course. For these I used a Canon Powershot 3IS, an older mid-model consumer camera, without using a tripod.
It is a little larger than the popular point-and-shoot cameras, but not as heavy and unwieldy as DSLR cameras and lenses. I find the built in image stabilization very important for capturing sunset photos. If I do use a tripod, I prefer the bendy type that I can fix to different surfaces - much more versatile than the solid, straight variants.
My favourite sunset-friendly place has to be Mount Hakodate in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, the locals and the tourists are aware of this, and the viewing areas are overflowing on any clear night. Often the moon rises over the water, and the town lights sparkle brightly, providing camera fodder for much longer than many other photography spots.