Saturday, 19 January 2013

How to shoot great sunsets.

Whether you are an aspiring photographer, want an emotive picture for your blog, or simply want a lovely picture for the family album, we all love a great sunset. How many times though have you looked at your picture and been disappointed with the result. I bet, like me many of you have felt that the sunset looked better how you remember it and get a sinking feeling knowing you can't get that moment back.

Settings on your camera. 
The most important thing to get right first of all is your camera settings.
When you take any picture your camera works out how light the scene is and calculates a mid tone. Sunsets are generally quite dark so the camera over exposes, moving the darks up to mid tones. You need to tell the camera who is boss. Some cameras have a sunset setting to use. DSLR cameras allow you to over or under expose your shot ( according to the camera) and this is the setting to alter. You want to underexpose by about 2 stops. This is a bit hit and miss though, so it is worth taking shots at different exposure levels (known as bracketing) to see which works best. The colours on your screen should not be relied upon here as the picture looks more intense there, than on your computer when you get home.
Always use the best quality setting your camera has. This is not the time to save space with a lower resolution. If you have a RAW setting and are happy doing basic post production work, then go with that, otherwise the best jpeg setting.

Keep it Steady
Sunsets, despite what our eyes tell us have a low level of light, so the time it takes for your camera to take the picture is going to be quite long. Keeping it steady on a tripod is the best option, but you could also look for a wall, fence, bollard etc to lean on.

A tripod gives you the option to take very long exposure shots for some very different effects. The picture at the top was taken over 30 seconds.

Think about mood
What do you want to convey with this picture? Is it peace and tranquillity, natures awesome power, fiery colours, etc. This will affect how you take the picture too.
For instance, taking a very long exposure could quiet the ripples on a lake to give that sense of complete calm, a fairly long exposure on a windy day will give movement to clouds and give the picture great power.
Underexpose even more to give a silhouette against intensely coloured skies.

Take lots of shots
Alter your settings and keep shooting to give yourself the best chance of getting the one that makes you sit up and say WOW.

Digital Darkroom
Some people are afraid of altering their pictures once captured, but you shouldn't be. It's not cheating - it's getting your picture closer to the vision you saw. Your camera looks at the world in quite a different way to your eyes, or rather your brain, but that's another story. Picassa is a very simple programme that allows you to alter the picture in simple ways. For sunset pictures you will probably find the warmify tool useful as it brings out the colours. The trick is not to make drastic changes as these start to introduce noise ( unwanted dots of colour ) and reduce the quality of the shot, as well as looking unrealistic. More advanced tools are available free online. One I like to use is gimp.

This is just a very basic guide, what have you found gives you sunset pictures to be proud of?


  1. Thanks for the tips. The photos are spectacular. I love sunsets and try to capture them whenever I can. But mine never turn out as fab as yours. Have bookmarked your page for future reference. thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Suzy, good luck with future pics :)

  2. Thank you, Janice. Sometimes the royalty free pictures all start to look so similar. With your simple tips, I will take some "shots" at doing it myself.

    1. Would love to see the results when you do :)

  3. Hi Janice,

    I love taking pictures, but I'm not a photogenic person. I can't take pictures well and I don't look good in them. LOL

    You have such a wonderful way of explaining how to do the steps. I wish I had the patience to put them into practice.

    1. Thank you Bonnie, that is a really nice comment.
      I keep behind the lens because I don't like pictures of myself :)
      Good luck with the UBC challenge.


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