Photography

Sunset Photography: The Complete Guide

Sunsets mean so many different things. It represents the end of the day and the coming of a new one. The hustle and bustle of life slow down and nature takes over. Sunset photography is an opportunity to capture the magnificent blaze of life as it comes to a close. It signifies the change from afternoon to evening, and then night. What a beautiful transition that is. 

Sunsets are symphonies of beautiful colors. Filled with bold clashes of oranges and yellows. Shadows captured at the right moment create a wonder of nature. Camera settings, composition techniques, and gear all play a role in Sunset photography. One of the incredible things about this art is time. You have all the time to be inspired and bring full circle the magic of Sunsets through your images. 

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In this guide, you’ll learn about the benefits of shooting during sunset. Understand your camera settings and what is best. Of course, you can’t forget about your gear. 

Related: Landscape Photography Settings

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What is Sunset Photography?

Sunset’s are a force to be reckoned with. So much beauty, magic, and mystery all in one scene. Taking photos using the sunset is a great way to enhance the landscape around you. What make’s sunset photography special? It’s how the sun enhances the context found within it. 

One of the advantages of shooting at sunset is the amount of time you have. Unlike sunrise, you don’t have to rush to capture the right light. Sunsets are versatile. First thing in the morning what do you notice? The calm and quiet of life right. This is great if you want to shoot photos in the morning. You can catch some pretty awesome images in the morning. The mist and fog linger in the forests. The calm waves on a lake or in the ocean. Light beams punch through the trees and touch individual leaves. These images and more are all creations of sunrise. 

If you are someone who doesn’t like early morning wake-up calls, sunset’s are up your alley. You don’t have to get up early to beat the ever-changing light. You can track the weather throughout the day and gives you time to prep your gear before heading out. You also can gauge your departure time. During the days of summer, time is on your side. The days are longer so you have more time to plan and build the perfect sunrise shoot session. 

Sunrises have the advantage of being clear and crisp. Once humans start moving around, radicals start to flow through the air. In the light of a sunset, this will create amazing shadows and increase the haze in the sky. This softens the sun’s light and brings brilliance to your image. 

Power Hours: Sunset Photography

Did I mention that sunsets are magic? Photographers have coveted the first hour before sunset the “magic hour.” The magic hour, also known as the golden hour, provides the perfect light. The sun rays during this time embellish the subject in your image. It does provide for a breathtaking moment. 

Magic hour holds to the name because the light during this time of day erases blemishes. This is serious magic! No photo editing is required! Because of the soft, dimmed light, it blurs imperfections and can add a hint of a glowing tan. Now we are talking about portraits. That’s okay. There is so much to photography in that one area of expertise. Dabbling with so many different photo opportunities will hone your skills and abilities. 

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One important aspect of Golden hour or magic, whichever you prefer. The sunset helps to convey emotion. Talk to any photographer and they will tell you that one of the most crucial techniques in an image, is emotion. Golden hour can summon the feeling of nostalgia, happiness and bring forth a sense of youth. 

Who needs a fountain of youth when you have sunsets. 

There is another power hour that is worth exploring when it comes to sunset photography. The Blue hour. This hour offers darker skies with hues of blue, giving off a much cooler, calm feeling. The blue hour arrives shortly after sunset and before sunrise. The sun is right below the horizon and offers cooler tones. 

Sunsets create a whole range of lighting for photographers. This allows the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of photographs. It’s up to you if you want to wait a bit longer to get those extra blue tones or if you’re happy with the golden hour shades. The sky can change colors in some pretty dramatic ways. and sometimes looking through your images you receive a surprise.

If you are wanting to learn more about Golden Hour, take a look at some of the other articles from our blog below: 

Gear Up for Sunset Photography

When starting as a photographer, some think that the best high-end gear is important. Some of it might be, but to be honest, that’s not always true. I always tell people to do their research. Compare and contrast the different cameras out there. Same with lenses, tripods, even editing software. Photography can get expensive, yes. When picking out equipment and gear, it’s about being comfortable with what you are going to use. You don’t have to take out a bank loan to be a photographer. 

The Camera

To capture sunset photos, you will need a camera with excellent dynamic range. The dynamic range helps highlight the transitions between light and dark tones. 

There are three elements to a camera’s ISO setting. 1. Exposure, 2. Shutter speed and 3. F- Stop. You will also want to research and figure out a camera that is easy to work with when shooting natural light. You and your camera are partners in this. Be sure you understand your camera from a technical perspective. Natural light within a sunset is not as bright and fluid throughout. Understanding how the ISO setting plays a role is key to beautiful photos. 

Included within this reading are a few articles that discuss different camera options. Take a look. 

One of the favorite cameras out there is the Canon Rebel EOS T7 i / EOS 800D. This camera is very versatile and gives you the ability to shoot in every situation. Remember, when in nature you never know what you might find. Be ready for anything.

Another great suggestion is the Sony α7R IV. It is a little more expensive, but this camera is top of the line. When shooting sunsets it won’t disappoint. 

Lenses for Sunset Photography

There are so many different lens options out there. It can be overwhelming deciding what you need and when. Not every photo session will need a different or special lens. The nice thing about sunsets images and you don’t need anything special or fancy. The kit that comes with your camera is more than enough. 

Experiment with your camera and the lens. Take different sunset photos in different locations and see how your images turn out. You are the only one that is going to know what you want your photos to portray and how to get that. 

Let’s make sure you have options though. I am all about the more information the better. 

Wide-Angle Lenses. Sunsets tell a story. A story about life, the next chapter and illuminate the environment within. Using the light in a sunset to your advantage will showcase the story you want to tell your viewer. A wide-angle focal length lens can help for this type of photo. Any 18-55mm kit-lens or similar will do the job. or similar will do the job. If you have a bigger budget the greatest sharpness, look at the Sony – FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM.

Sunset Photo Tips

Let’s discuss a few tips that will help bring your sunset photo session full circle. Regardless of what you want to photograph, these tips are adaptable to any situation. 

Tip 1: Planning 

Being a landscape photographer, I am a planner. Impromptu trips are amazing producing breathtaking photos as well. Planning is key to feeling prepared for any shoot. It is advisable to arrive at least an hour and a half before sunset to ensure that you have everything set up and ready. Lighting changes can be sudden so be ready. Weather also changes on a dime, think about that. Be encouraged to have a jacket in your vehicle at all times for safe measure. 

Tip 2: Scout the Location 

Scout the location. Despite the lighting being the main factor, a good location can enhance the quality of the photos. Go to the area you want to photograph on a different day but during the same time of day. You will see what the area looks like and what the landscape is full of. You can determine if you need a specific lens and where to set up your camera. 

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Tip 3: Composition 

Not every sunset comes with great opportunities for pictures. This about composition and how that factors in. Look at the clouds and the haze that will appear at sunset. How does that play a role? If it’s a clear day that’s okay. More context in your photos is a goal, but nature doesn’t always work in your favor. You can make up for dull composition by highlighting the foreground objects. Creating a higher horizon placement. This technique helps you cover less sky in your photo and use your foreground to your advantage. If the sky is beautiful, you should highlight its beauty by lowering the horizon in your image. 

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Tip 4: Use a Tripod for Long Exposure 

It is a known fact that most professional photographers always have a tripod with them. It isn’t always necessary but is helpful. Without a tripod, photography can be a little more difficult. You will need to deal with shutter speed and ensure that it does not fall below 1/60-1/100. There is also the matter of bracketing your shots. This can add to the challenge of taking handheld photos. A tripod helps to stabilize the camera. Nature is tricky sometimes. Keeping the camera still and adjusting exposure will provide crisp photos. 

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Tip 5: Shoot in RAW 

What does shooting RAW mean? Well, it’s shooting the photo in a natural state. Meaning, there isn’t any special camera magic. Photographers do still run their images through an editor but it’s more for cleanup in this case. Using RAW files helps you recover shadows and highlights. When you shoot sunsets, you will face bright highlights and dark shadows. Shooting in RAW format helps get an image without any clipped shadows and blown-out highlights. 

Related article: Forest Photography Guide

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Tip 6: Create a Starburst Effect 

There are skeptics out there that say shooting into the sun will ruin the camera. Or that it takes away from the photo. Pointing the camera at the sun at sunset is a little different though. Have you heard of the Starburst Effect? This is one of the most amazing natural phenomena that sunsets provide. You are the magician. You select the smallest aperture on the camera and shoot into the sunlight. This helps bring out the rays of the sun into prominence and increases visibility. You can take shots and then crank up the aperture to around f/20 to achieve this effect. Try it! 

Final Thoughts 

The best part about sunset photography is that sunsets are so versatile. You don’t have to worry about going anywhere or missing out. Sunsets are out your backdoor. A picturesque landscape is preferable of course. A beach or a valley might enhance the magnificence of your photograph. No matter what, if you experiment and use composition techniques the imagery will show. Another important aspect is to have fun and your photos will reflect. Remember that every day presents itself with a chance to capture a beautiful sunset. 

Please feel free to like, share and comment. 

Stefano Caioni PixinfocusStefano Caioni Pixinfocus

Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

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