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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.