There’s really nothing more satisfying than a great sunset shot, and being out at dusk in a beautiful location is a delight! But what is the key to getting great sunset photos? How do you make sure those lovely warm tones are reflected in your image? How do you prevent the sky being too bright or the foreground being too dark?
All good questions, and here are a few good answers…
Make sure that there is something interesting in front of your dramatic sunset
The sky might be beautiful and something that you feel like you could gaze at forever, but it won’t make a great photo unless it is the backdrop to something worth photographing. Good examples might be a silhouette, an interesting seascape, or a person doing something worth capturing. Either way, try to make sure that your foreground would make a good image on it’s own. This way, when you add in the spectacular sunset, you’ve got every chance of getting a truly great image!
Use ‘Shade’ or ‘Cloudy’ White Balance settings
This will warm your images up a little and emphasise the red and orange tones. If you are shooting in RAW you can do this afterwards if you prefer, but it is still better to change the setting on your camera to give you an idea of the image you are creating.
Underexpose a little
Underexposing also helps with emphasising those warm tones, making them richer and more vibrant. Additionally it will prevent parts of the sky going white.
Use flash, an ND filter or HDR
A great challenge is dealing with the high contrast in sunset images. The sky will usually be much brighter than whatever is in the foreground. There are several ways around this. If your subject is close and relatively small then you can add a little flash in to light it up, usually called fill-in flash. If it’s a landscape image then you may want to think about using HDR (high Dynamic Range) or an ND (Neutral Density) graduated filter. HDR usually combines 3 or more images, either in camera or in processing software. The images are taken at different exposures so that the lightest part (the sun and/or sky) is under exposed and therefore a bit darker, and the darkest parts (the land and foreground) is over exposed and a bit lighter. An ND grad filter is basically a piece of glass that goes on the front of your lens. Half of the glass is dark and the other half is completely transparent. You line it up so that the dark part is over the sky and less light from this part of the scene gets through to your sensor.
Use a small aperture and a wide angle
When you have the sun in your image using a small aperture such as f16 or f22 can create a starburst. Using a wide-angle lens to make the sun become a pin point in a large frame can also help with this effect.
Clean your lens
Tiny bits of dust on your lens can cause problems when shooting in to the sun, creating a kind of messy lens flare effect. Keep it nice and clean and your to save yourself hours of photoshop trying to fix it!