Patience is a virtue
So let’s say the sky is looking spectacular one night, and you decide to take a couple of shots and move on. That’s fine, but if you’re wanting a phenomenal sunset picture, stick around for a little while. As the sun continues to go down, the sky is going to continue to change colors, providing you with a variety of shots.
Are you more into planned sunset photography and not spontaneous shoots? Lucky for you, sunrise and sunset calculators actually exist online, giving you time to scout out the perfect location and get your camera ready.
Once the sun has finally set and you feel like you’ve successfully captured some brag-worthy sunset photos, wait a few more minutes. Shots at dusk can be just as beautiful, if not more than, sunset shots. Just make sure you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about night photography.
Include a focal point
While there’s nothing wrong with a picture of solely a sunset, including a focal point in your photo will make it even more interesting. If you’re on the beach, find a tree to place in the forefront, or if you’re in the city, an exceptional looking building will add a captivating spin to your sunset photo.
If you have a friend in tow when you’re on your sunset photography quest, ask them to hop into your photo if there aren’t any other focal points in sight. You can either create a silhouette by decreasing the exposure (see instructions below) or you can pop your flash up to get a properly exposed person AND a properly exposed sunset. (The image above is an example of a silhouette and the image below is an example of flash being used to expose both foreground and background properly. Both images were taken by our student, Nitin Gopalani.)
Image editing programs, like Photoshop, can be relied upon to nudge the saturation, vibrancy or contrast of the sunset colors in the right direction but keep in mind that it’s always easier to make these adjustments when you start with an image that isn’t too far off the mark. (Image editing programs can do a lot of amazing things with your images but pulling a sunset out of a sky that is either really over-exposed or really under-exposed is virtually impossible.)
Do some experimenting
Like with any photography, some of the best shots happen when you’re open to experiment with your camera. Put your camera into the “P” (Program) shooting mode and play with the exposure compensation setting. (Look in your manual if you don’t know where to find that particular setting.) Take a few shots with your camera set to different settings (-2.0, 0, +2.0 would be three good settings to start with and then you can fine-tune from there).
White balance is a function on your camera we don’t typically cover until one of our more advanced classes and, generally, we recommend you let your camera do the work around white balance. With sunsets, however, your white balance setting is something that can be interesting to play around with.
The white balance setting exists on your camera because all light sources have a particular kind of color cast – most often on a spectrum from really orange to really blue. Tungsten and Incandescent light bulbs tend to let off a really orangey light whereas the light caused by shade (or really indirect sunlight) is really blue. Again, I’ll remind you that until you learn the ins and outs of white balance, I would advise that you leave that particular setting up to your camera (by leaving your camera set to “Auto White Balance”) but playing with your white balance setting when you’re taking pictures of sunsets can be a fast and easy way to either warm up your image (increase the orange in the image) or cool it down (increase the blue in the image).
To see what this looks like, find your white balance setting and shoot one image of a sunset on the tungsten or incandescent setting and then shoot the same sunset but change the white balance setting to shade (or, if you don’t have shade, use cloudy). You’ll see a major difference! Once you see those two results, you can then play around with the various white balance options on your camera that will get you exactly the result you like.