Sunsets are a popular subject in photography, especially when it comes to travel photography. The nature offers a wonderful show of light and color during a sunset and this is of course a great moment to photograph. However, this type of photography presents two main issues. The first is that taking a photograph directly towards a source of light, such as the sun, and keeping all the colors in balance is difficult, especially since the surrounding objects are in low light. The second issue is that most of the photographs that have the sunset as the main subject are very similar. This article will discuss how to make your sunset photos stand out, by using various composition techniques.
Preparing for the shot:
When photographing sunsets, just like with nature photography, you must be prepared in order to catch the best moment. You will have a window of about half an hour to capture the sunset in your photographs, however, the most wonderful part of the sunset -when the light is the most impressive- will only last around 1 minute, so it’s crucial to be prepared. Find out the time at which the sun sets in your area and go to the desired location in time and remember to take with you all the necessary equipment.
Before starting to shoot the sunset you should find a place where you will have the best view of the surrounding landscape. The location is important because it will provide you with different elements that you can include in your shot and achieve a better composition. Look for different elements such as trees, rocks, mountains, water, or silhouettes like people, birds or boats. Also, look for different angles to shoot from and prepare your camera’s settings accordingly.
Photos by Andrewapuya
Gear for sunset photography:
To get the best images possible during sunsets you have to use the appropriate gear, like the following:
- A good camera. Almost any DSLR camera will be perfect, because sunset photography should be taken at a low ISO value anyway.
- A tripod. Working with low ISO values can force you to use slow shutter speeds during a sunset and because of that a tripod will be essential to keep your camera steady.
- Lenses with a wide range of focal lengths. Taking beautiful pictures of the sunset involves capturing the surroundings as well, because the context in which you set your subject will make the difference between ordinary and great pictures. You will usually need a wide angle to capture the most of the surrounding landscape and a lens with a wide range of focal lengths will make the framing of your picture much easier.
- Use filters. They important part of the gear you need when taking sunset photographs. Filters come in a large variety and you should know what are the most suitable for your situation. Some of the filters you can use in sunset photography are: an ND filter, it reduces the intensity of light, very useful in this type of photography; a UV filter, it protects the eyes and the camera’s sensor from the ultra-violet rays; a polarizing filter, it reduces the amount of light entering the camera and it also cuts glare and allows you to shoot near water.
Setting the camera for sunset photography:
Before you start shooting you should calibrate the settings of your camera according to the environment and the light around you. Capturing that perfect moment, when the sun casts the most wonderful is difficult. So, you should take a few shots before and make the necessary adjustments. You can use the following as a guideline:
- Set the ISO to a low value. The sky should be bright enough in order to provide you with sufficient light for a good picture. A higher ISO value will probably add some noise and you don’t want that, especially if you want to edit the photograph afterwards (editing might bring out any noisy parts of the image.)
- Set the white balance manually. You should use a manual setting because it is a safer way to go, as some cameras don’t interpret it very well on auto. You can try setting white balance to the “clouds” or “shade” modes, but you should experiment with the other values as well to see what works best.
- Try different exposures. You can use HDR techniques which will give you more details in the final image. Also be careful when setting the exposure and try not to use automatic settings, because the camera may be fooled by the sun’s powerful light, if you point it directly towards the sun, and this might result in underexposed images.
- You may need to use slower shutter speeds to capture all the surrounding light properly and in that case a tripod is necessary.
- Use manual focus. Sometimes, you will have a hard time using auto focus, because of the low light environment. You can set the manual focus to infinity if you want to focus on the sunset itself.
- Use a medium aperture of somewhere between f/8 and f/11, in order to get a sharp image with most of the elements in the picture in focus. You can try other settings too, if you want to make things more interesting, especially if you want to blur a part of the picture.
- Experiment with the use of a graduated ND filter. Just like a normal neutral density filter, an ND filter reduces and modifies the intensity of light without modifying the colors. The difference is that on a graduated ND filter the intensity varies gradually across the surface of the filter. It can be very useful in taking pictures of a sunset because it will give you an image containing details in the sky as well as on the ground.
Composition tips and other ideas that will help you achieve great sunset photographs.
Choosing the proper composition and using some different ideas will set your photographs apart from the usual sunset images.
Always try to use the rule of thirds in your composition and pay attention to the details and to the elements that appear in your picture. Try to include different objects in your photo, like a tree, water or a distant mountain and take advantage of the interesting light reflected from them during a sunset. Try to make something different. Instead of emphasizing the sun, you can focus on these surrounding elements and use the sunset as a beautiful background.
An interesting setting would be one in which you can capture very still waters, during a sunset. This effect can be achieved through the use of long shutter speeds and with the help of an ND filter. For example, if you have an image with a sunset over water, the light from the sun will be so powerful that it will make the use of slow shutter speeds and wide apertures very difficult. Sometimes even if you close the aperture to its maximum you will still have too much light, and this is where an ND filter will help, because it will reduce the intensity of the light.
Sunsets always make a beautiful background and if you don’t want to emphasize the sun in your photograph you can always try a normal shot of something else and use the sunset just as a background. For example, you can take photographs of people, just like for a normal portrait picture, but with the sunset somewhere in the image. Also, it is not always necessary to have the sun in your picture. An idea would be to use just that interesting light the sunset is casting and to take a portrait or a landscape picture when the elements in the image are perfectly lighted by the setting sun.
Experiment using the camera’s flash. Although you might think it will not help you with anything if you make “sunset photography”, the use of flash might have its role in this type of photography. For example, you can use the flash to make a more interesting image, by casting light on the things in front of your camera, which are usually silhouetted by the sun in the background.
Use the reflections of the sun. If you have water reflecting the sunset you can emphasize that element and you can either frame the picture so that the sun is reflected symmetrically or not.
Try to include the sunset in a panorama. It will make a great picture especially if you have a cloudy day and some mountains in the background. Experiment with different photography techniques and use the light of the sunset to create a surreal effect on the surroundings you want to photograph.
Using the sunset as a main subject of a picture or just as an asset will help you achieve some great photographs with a little practice. It might be difficult sometimes to capture the exact moment when the sun creates the most impressive light, during a sunset, but it is worth trying because the results can be spectacular. Just remember to think ahead and to keep shooting. Your perfect picture might be there.
Some wonderful examples of sunset photography: