Sunset photos are challenging! You have this beautiful bright ball of light, but if you aren’t careful, you’ll see that and nothing else. Why? The sun tricks your camera into thinking the whole photo is being taken in bright light and everything except the sun will be almost black. Disappointing? Yes, but never fear, with a few of my tips below, you’ll be taking great sunset photos in no time.
1. Don’t just capture the big round ball. If you can get the sun peeking out from between some clouds or as it is partially below the horizon, you may get a better shot. In this photo, taken in Greece, I had both the chapel as a focal point and the sun behind the clouds to add interest to the picture. When we get to a more detailed discussion of composition, we will revisit why this photo is pleasing, but for now notice that nothing is specifically centered as I mention in my previous blog Ugh, My Photo Doesn’t Look Like What I Saw – What Happened?
2. Underexpose the photo a little bit. If you let your camera pick the exposure, you may find the photos are too bright or washed out. Set your exposure to underexpose by (-1) to (-1+1/3) when the setting sun is directly in the photo. This will increase the saturation of the colors in your photo. With your digital camera, take several photos at different exposures so you can see which ones look best as you preview them on the camera’s LCD screen. The photo above was underexposed to create the silhouette of the mountain the chapel is sitting on. With a normal exposure, the features of the mountain (rocks, bushes) would have been visible but the sky would have been washed out, rather than the rich red colors you see.
3. Use a telephoto lens. This will increase the proportion of the size of the sun in your photo compared to the other elements and create for some dramatic shots. The photo from Greece above was taken at a 225mm focal length on a digital SLR.
4. Use a wide angle lens and put something interesting in the foreground. People, boats, or a reflection on the wet sand can all make for very interesting foreground objects. In this photo, the paper lights and the flag provide the interest. Notice how the sun itself and the horizon are just out of focus, which provides an additional sense of depth to the photo.
5. Taking pictures of people in warm lighting late in the day creates very flattering portraits. Sunsets just seem to make people feel good and smile so you will get good results. If the sun is still a bit bright, avoid having them squint by not looking directly into the sun or having them close their eyes or look away until just before you take the photo. Since you are photographing people with expressions, so take several shots you can capture a really special one like this photo to the left. Imagine how beautiful a bride and groom look with the warm glow of the sun complimenting the bride’s white gown. Late afternoon light works for everyone, so think about taking your next family portrait in this warm flattering light.
I hope you have fun with these tips and capture some really special sunset photos! Let me know what you think.