How to Make Your Sunset Photography More Interesting

It’s hard to resist a sunset. The warm colors and light make you want to share what you see with the world. But often what you see is not what you get with your camera. A beautiful real-life scene can turn into a rather drab photo. Learning a few tricks will help you capture the gorgeous setting sun you see in creative, eye-catching ways.

One of the most common traits of mediocre sunset photography is overexposure of the sky. If the sky is too bright, it loses color. To remedy this problem, use manual mode and spot metering to expose for a section of the sky. Meter by moving your camera to a spot in the sky without the sun in the frame and setting exposure before recomposing. Underexpose by a stop or two for richer colors and more dramatic portrayals of the light.

Wait for the right day. Choose a cloudy or hazy evening over a clear one for more stunning sunset images. While a sunset is almost always pretty, clouds and fog often result in golden, vivid hues.

Sunset Photography

Starburst, Evening Thunderstorms by Jim Stauffer

For a creative starburst effect, set your aperture to its smallest setting (i.e. highest number). The tiny light passage will give the sun a sparkling star shape. Because the smaller aperture lets less light into the lens, you might need a tripod to compensate for the resulting slow shutter speed.

Sunset Photography

Grass to add depth by Nicoal Price

Sunset Photography

Silhouettes, Aussie Silhouette by Chris Samuel

Add depth and a point of interest to the scene by including foreground elements. The tricky backlit conditions usually mean that foreground elements will be dark in your image, so it’s best to use people in interesting poses or objects with distinct shapes that can serve as silhouettes. If you want more detail in the foreground subjects, use a reflector or flash to fill in shadows.

Sunset Photography

Reflection by Nicoal Price

The reflections from a brilliant sunset in water, glass, or other mirror-like objects can be just as interesting as the sky. Try using a reflection of the sunset as the main subject in your photographs. Sometimes you don’t even need to include the sky to make an intriguing image of the setting sun.

Sunset Photography

Atypical composition by Nicoal Price

Spark your viewers’ interest by straying from typical compositions. Move the horizon from the middle of the frame to a more extreme position. Turn the camera for a vertical shot. Put the sun up in a corner. Try experimenting with many different compositions rather than settling for a common layout of the scene.

Above all, be ready for the sun to set. Sometimes you only get a few minutes or seconds of perfect light and colors to make decisions about your location and camera settings before the sun disappears over the horizon or behind a stray cloud. Check online or download an app to find sunset times in your area, and arrive at your destination well in advance. Explore the area to seek out foregrounds and compositions that will set your photos apart from the ordinary.

Eliminate the disappointment of boring photos by trying a few new tricks next time you photograph the sunset. Plan your location ahead of time, look for interesting ways to compose your shots, and master the technical aspects of shooting into the setting sun, and you’ll be sure to create atypical images that are works of art.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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