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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

Tips for sunset photography (guest blog!)

This is a guest blog, written by fellow drone photographer, Andy Morley (www.stratosdrones.co.uk)

Sunset photography is an enjoyable and rewarding activity that can yield breathtakingly

beautiful images. However, capturing stunning sunset shots can be challenging, especially

for beginners. The contrasting bright skies and dark foregrounds often result in exposure

issues, and the limited lighting can cause blurred images due to camera shaking. Follow

these tips to improve your sunset photography skills and overcome these common

challenges.





1. Plan ahead for the best results

Although you can occasionally capture stunning sunset photographs spontaneously, the

most impressive shots typically result from careful planning. Enhance your chances of

capturing breathtaking sunset images by strategically preparing for your photography

sessions.


Before your photoshoot, make sure to scout out potential sunset spots. Search for

captivating locations where you can capture the sun setting on the horizon, offering

opportunities for stunning shots with foreground elements and captivating silhouettes.

The sunset window is often brief, so it's crucial to consider these factors beforehand. Don't

miss out on capturing the most stunning shots. Plan ahead to make the most of the limited

time available during the sunset.


Discover the sunset time and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance. While capturing

stunning images of the sun descending below the horizon, you'll also experience enchanting

moments during the pre-sunset period.

Stay updated on the weather and witness the mesmerizing variety of sunset types, painting

the sky with unique lights and patterns. Don't confine yourself to clear days; it's the partially

cloudy ones that offer the most enchanting views. Explore the captivating beauty of sunset

colours and atmospheric phenomena. Plan your sunset photography accordingly for awe-

inspiring results. Don't miss out on the breathtaking spectacle nature has to offer!

When preparing for photography, it's essential to consider the equipment you may need.

Bring a tripod, lenses with varying focal lengths, and additional batteries. By doing so, you'll

be well-prepared to capture the stunning beauty of the sky whenever it presents itself.


2. Use the right camera

Capturing stunning sunset images is possible with any camera, be it a budget-friendly

smartphone or a high-end mirrorless unit. However, specific cameras do provide

advantages. If you're passionate about sunset (or sunrise) photography, consider investing in a new model to enhance your results. Explore the best cameras for sunset photography

to elevate your skills and capture breathtaking moments.


Full-frame cameras, especially the latest full-frame mirrorless cameras, provide a stunning

dynamic range. This enables capturing both dark shadows and bright highlights in a single

frame, ideal for capturing breathtaking sunsets without the need for bracketing or HDR

techniques. Moreover, these cameras excel in low-light conditions, making a significant

impact on handheld or nighttime photography. Experience the impressive capabilities of

full-frame cameras for enhanced image quality and versatility in various lighting conditions.

When choosing a camera, it's important to consider the megapixel count. While many

mirrorless cameras today start at around 20 MP, it's worth investing in a model with 30 MP,

40 MP, or even 60 MP if you plan on printing large photos. This will ensure high-quality

images and allow you to create stunning prints.


3. Vary the focal lengths of your shots

Sunsets are often captured using wide-angle lenses, which can produce stunning images. For

sweeping shots of your sunset scene, consider using a lens within the 10-30mm range.

If want to capture the sun as the main focus of your shot, it's important to zoom in. The sun

appears only half a degree across, so using a wide-angle lens will result in a tiny sun in the

frame. To highlight the sun, consider using a 200mm lens or longer. Keep in mind that using

a longer lens may require a tripod for stability, which I will discuss in further detail below.

Optimising your photography for the sun as the subject requires careful consideration of

focal length and equipment.


It is crucial to prioritise eye safety due to the inherent dangers of looking at the sun. This risk

is further amplified when using a telephoto lens. To ensure your safety, refrain from looking

through your camera's optical viewfinder if you choose to include the sun in your

composition. Instead, make use of Live View on the rear LCD to assess your composition and

exposure. Stay safe and protect your eyes while capturing stunning shots!

If you use a mirrorless camera, viewing the sun through an electronic viewfinder is safe and

won't cause any issues.


4. Remember the rule of thirds to improve composition

The rule of thirds is a fundamental principle in composition. It suggests positioning key

elements one-third into the frame to create visually appealing scenes. Instead of placing the

horizon in the centre, consider placing it towards the top or bottom for a more engaging

landscape composition. Mastering this technique can greatly enhance the visual impact of

your photographs.


The rule of thirds is not limited to horizons. It can be applied to position various elements

like the sun, foreground, and background. The rule of thirds is not mandatory, and

occasionally, breaking it can yield breathtaking outcomes. However, as a general guideline, the rule of thirds serves as an excellent foundation. Unless you have a specific rationale, I

highly recommend adhering to it for optimal results.


5. Unleash the Magic: Experimenting with Exposures for

spectacular results

When capturing sunset photography, it is essential to use semi-automatic or Manual mode

for optimal results. Avoid relying on your camera's automatic settings. Prior to starting a

sunset shoot, switch your camera to Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority mode, or

Manual mode.


When capturing photos, it's important to take multiple shots at varying exposures instead of

just relying on one. This approach not only enhances the quality of your images but also

provides more versatility in post-processing.


When it comes to exposure, you can start with the recommended settings from your

camera. However, don't hesitate to experiment by underexposing with higher shutter

speeds or narrower apertures. Likewise, don't be afraid to overexpose by doing the

opposite. Find the right balance for optimal results in your photography.


Sunsets offer a unique opportunity for breathtaking photography. Unlike other subjects,

there's no single "correct" exposure. In fact, experimenting with both underexposure and

overexposure can yield stunning results. So don't be afraid to get creative and find your own

perfect shot. Capture the beauty of sunsets with different exposures and unlock the true

potential of your photography skills.


6. The Bracketing Technique

In the previous tip, I discussed the importance of trying out various exposures. However, for

a more structured approach to exposure, I highly recommend utilising the bracketing

technique. By employing this method, you can optimise your photography and enhance

your overall results.


How does bracketing work? First, using your camera's suggested settings, take a first photo.

To achieve optimal results, start by adjusting the settings of your camera, either manually or

through exposure compensation, to slightly underexpose the photo. Capture the shot and

then readjust the settings to slightly overexpose the photo. In simpler terms, if your camera

suggests shooting at f/8, take the first shot at f/8 as recommended. For the second shot, use f/5.6, and for the third shot, use f/11. This approach will provide you with a "standard" shot,

a darker shot, and a brighter shot, each offering unique colours and effects.

Using guidelines can help direct your experimentation and serve as a safety net for your

photos. By capturing "insurance" shots, you can safeguard against accidental overexposure,

ensuring you have alternative files stored on your memory card.


7. Auto-locking your exposure may help

Bracketing can be an enjoyable technique, but it can be time-consuming. If you're short on

time and aiming for precise exposure, Auto Exposure Lock (AEL) is a handy solution.

Enhance your image creation process with this helpful feature.


Using an Automatic Exposure Lock (AEL) is a straightforward process. Begin by directing your

camera towards the desired area of the scene that requires precise exposure, such as a

captivating foreground element. Lock the exposure to maintain consistency. Lastly, reframe

the picture while keeping the exposure locked. This technique ensures optimal exposure

and enhances the overall quality of your photographs.


Essentially, it allows you to accurately measure exposure without the disturbance caused by

a bright sunset, which can negatively impact a camera's metering.


You can utilise Auto Exposure Lock to capture stunning silhouettes. Simply aim your camera

at the brightest area of the sky, lock the exposure, and then adjust the frame to include a

foreground subject. The end result will produce a visually appealing image.


8. Try different angles

When you begin capturing sunset photography, it's natural to stick to the same chest- or

eye-level perspective. Capture stunning shots from a standard vantage point. It's absolutely

fine to employ a consistent compositional approach across multiple photoshoots.


Eventually, you might want to capture eye-catching images that set you apart from others.

One effective approach is to experiment with different angles, allowing for unique and

engaging visuals.


Instead of consistently placing your camera on a fully extended tripod and pointing it at the

horizon, consider experimenting with different angles and perspectives. This approach can

add variety and creativity to your photography.


One of the ways to capture a stunning sunset photo is by using drone photography allowing you to take pictures from a higher perspective. Get creative and indulge in the beauty of aerial photography!


9. Where possible, shoot in RAW

When photographers begin their journey, they often prefer capturing JPEG images. These

images are compact, easily shareable, and don't require any additional editing. Opting for

JPEG format allows for seamless sharing and accessibility.


JPEGs are undoubtedly convenient, but they come with a trade-off. When your camera

generates a JPEG, it compresses the image data, leading to a loss of information in the file.

In contrast, RAW files preserve all the image data captured, offering numerous advantages,

including increased flexibility and superior image quality.


RAW files contain a wealth of colour information, allowing for effortless manipulation of

colours without the risk of unsightly banding effects. RAW files offer a greater range of tonal information, allowing for the recovery of lost details in both shadows and highlights. Unlike JPEG files, RAW format preserves more visual data, enhancing the overall quality of your images.


Sunset photography is a captivating experience, offering a vast range of stunning colours

and dynamic scenes. Although RAW files may not initially exhibit the same level of visual

splendour as JPEGs, a basic understanding of editing techniques can transform them into

breathtaking masterpieces.


Please note that to make your files shareable, you will require RAW processing software.

Fortunately, there are numerous excellent programs available, including paid options such

as Lightroom Classic, DaVinci Resolve, as well as free programs like RawTherapee.


10. Stop using Auto White Balance for better colours

The white balance setting on your camera is crucial for controlling the colour temperature

of your scene. This adjustment determines whether your photo appears cooler with more

blue tones or warmer with more red tones. By fine-tuning the white balance, you can create

the desired mood and atmosphere to capture stunning photographs. Discover how to

optimise your camera's white balance settings for amazing results and enhance the visual

appeal of your images.


When the white balance is set to Auto, your camera will automatically handle the colour

temperature. However, relying on this setting can lead to disappointing results, causing the

loss of the beautiful warm golden tones of your sunset.


To optimise your photography, consider adjusting your camera's white balance settings.

Instead of relying on Auto White Balance, try using presets like Cloudy or Shade to add

warmth to your shots. If you're aiming for a cooler, more moody look, experiment with

white balance settings like Incandescent, especially during sunset photography.


When shooting in RAW, you have the flexibility to adjust the white balance during post-

processing. However, constantly tweaking it on the computer can be time-consuming. That's

why it's important to get the white balance right in-camera for a more convenient workflow.


11. Using a tripod gives the sharpest results

When capturing images at slower shutter speeds, like 1/60s and beyond, using a tripod can

greatly enhance the quality. By keeping your camera stable, it ensures that your photos

remain sharp and clear.


As the sun sets on the horizon, the importance of using a tripod becomes increasingly

evident. By the time the sun disappears, a tripod becomes absolutely essential for capturing

stunning photographs. Don't underestimate the significance of a tripod in enhancing the

quality of your images during sunset.


If you don't have a tripod or forget to bring one, here's a helpful tip: stabilise your camera

against an object. You can place it on the car's bonnet or simply set it on the ground. The

goal is to minimise movement and ensure steady shots. Don't let the lack of a tripod hinder

your photography!


12. Use a timer or remote to fire the camera

When photographing sunsets, using a tripod eliminates one significant cause of blurriness,

handshake. It is crucial to acknowledge another cause of blurriness, the vibrations generated by the act of pressing the shutter button. Many photographers are unaware that even the slightest

press can result in vibrations, which can lead to image blurring if the shutter speed is slow.

Understanding and minimizing these vibrations is essential for capturing clear and sharp

images.


Luckily, there are two simple ways to prevent this issue. These methods are not only

effective but also easy to implement. Using a remote release enables you to trigger the shutter without physically pressing the shutter button. Enhance your photography experience with this convenient accessory for seamless image capture. Utilise the two-second self-timer on your camera to allow vibrations to settle before capturing the perfect shot. This technique ensures optimal image quality and reduces blur.


13. Don’t worry about manual focusing

Autofocus is widely adored, but there are instances where it may struggle to perform in

challenging lighting conditions. In such cases, your lens may continuously search for focus,

resulting in an out-of-focus shot.


Manual focus is an invaluable tool in various situations. Its versatility and ease of use make

it an essential feature for the best results.


However, not all cameras and lenses are compatible with manual focus. Some lenses only

support autofocusing, leaving you without the option for manual adjustments.

To activate manual focus, simply push the AF/MF switch located on the lens barrel to MF.

This feature provides greater control and precision in focusing, enhancing the photography

experience.


14. Explore more than just the Sunset

Sunsets not only produce stunning hues in the sky but also emit a captivating golden light

that enhances various forms of photography.


As the sunset begins to go down, be sure to stay alert for additional photo opportunities in

your surroundings. Whether it's capturing portraits, landscapes, or close-up shots, the

magical light of the setting sun will enhance the beauty of your images. So make the most of

these moments and create amazing photographs!


15. When the Sun goes down, keep shooting!

Sunsets are ever-changing, offering endless photo opportunities with each passing minute.

Capture the perfect shot as the colours shift and transform. Instead of taking a few shots and leaving, stay a little longer, and experiment with various compositions. The important thing is to keep your camera ready and your finger on the shutter button.


Be sure to capture various exposures (bracketing!) and explore different focal lengths, as

mentioned earlier. These techniques can greatly enhance your photography, providing a

more diverse and visually appealing portfolio.


Don't stop shooting when the sun sets. The blue hour, the period after sunset, offers

stunning colours and magical light for photography. So, if you have the energy, keep

exploring and capturing compositions until the colours fade from the horizon completely.

Embrace the beauty of the blue hour!


Conclusion

In conclusion, sunset photography can truly be a rewarding experience, capturing the

mesmerising transition of light and colour as the day ends. Remember to stay patient and

open-minded as you embrace the challenges and opportunities that each sunset shoot

presents. Keep your tripod handy, understand the value of a remote or self-timer, don't fret

over manual focusing, and above all, never stop shooting, even after the sun has set.

Implement these tips and tricks, and you're well on your way to capturing stunning sunset

images that can make the fleeting beauty of the "magic hour" last forever.


Happy shooting!




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