Photographing sunsets – 8 expert tips
While some cameras come equipped with automatic modes that include settings for photographing sunsets, if you want to get off auto it can be difficult to produce good results. Luckily, experts from the Jessops Academy can provide some handy tips on how to get better so you can capture sunsets in all their glory.
It may be obvious but first up, budding photographers should get the equipment ready – camera, charged battery, wide-angle lens, tripod. And maybe do a recce to frame up your shots ahead of the crucial moments when the sky is looking at its best.
Check your directions
It’s a good idea to assess the location and light direction before the sun actually hits the horizon. That way you can think about silhouettes, shadows and composition so you’re ready when the magic starts to happen. There are plentys of apps available to help you see where the sun’s going to set on a given day, including the Photographer’s Ephemeris.
Grab your tripod
A good tripod won’t just save your arms from getting tired. It’ll also allow you to take exactly the same picture with exposure adjustments, or capture the same scene as the light changes during the process of the sun setting. Using a remote shutter release or your phone (assuming your camera has WiFi control) can help capture scenes without nudging the camera itself. A slightly slower shutter speed will allow you to record a little movement in trees, grassland or water.
Those keen to see improvements when photographing sunsets should certainly think about composition. If faced with superb skies, you’ll probably want to make them the main focus of your shot. But you’ll also need to set them against a little of the landscape in order to show scale and give them context. We’d suggest placing the horizon along the bottom line (using the grid overlay on your camera’s display options) so that the sky fills the majority of the scene, but you’ve still got a little foreground interest in the shot.
Look around you
Sometimes the most beautiful aspect of a sunset isn’t the sky itself, but the colours and shadows caused by the setting sun’s light. To take creative sunset pictures, turn your camera around and capture the shadows cast by trees. You could also try a picture inspired by the red-gold light being cast on faces or illuminating buildings.
Check your exposure
Shooting into the sun can play havoc with your camera’s exposure settings, so keep an eye on the histogram. This will ensure you’re not over- or under-exposing any area of the scene. Peaks to the right-hand-side of the histogram mean you’re likely to have bright white areas in your photo without any detail. You’ll need to bring the curve back to the left slightly to reclaim those finer details.
Change your metering mode
The best metering mode for sunset photography is centre-weighted metering. This gives you an average exposure with both sky and land taken into consideration. Using spot-metering and placing the dot over the sky will allow you to
turn the horizon into a silhouette. This is useful when trying to capture the colours of the sky and not the land around it.
Don’t leave too quickly
Photographing sunsets can certainly prove challenging. As all good landscapers know, the actual moment of sunset isn’t the main event. It’s not until about 15-20 minutes after the sun has set that the skies become ablaze. So don’t pack up your camera too promptly. Keep your eyes on the skies throughout and wait until the show is definitely over.