How to Photograph Sunsets: 10 Tips for the Perfect Shot


We all love capturing sunsets. Not surprisingly, photographs of sunsets (including sunrise, for that matter) constitute a big portion of the photographs made around the world every day. Sunsets have a characteristic dynamism, but they are immensely pleasant at the same time, evoking feelings of peace and tranquility. Here are some tips to help you get that perfect sunset shot.

When Heaven Bends To Kiss.. by PRAVEEN VENUGOPAL, on Flickr

1. Reach the location in time

After you have scouted for a good location for photographing the sunset, reach the location well before the sunset hour. This way you can choose good vantage points from where to capture the scene and also look for interesting subjects to include in your photographs. Also keep a tripod handy.

2. Photograph in the Golden Hour

The first and last hour of sunlight is called the Golden Hour. It is the most desirable time to photograph a sunset because the scene has a beautiful, golden glow and the sky is vibrant with different shades of colors. Photographing during the Blue Hour (the hour after the sunset, when the sky is rendered blue in the photos upon underexposure) extends your window of opportunity if you wish to utilize more time to photograph the scene.

end of the day by paul bica, on Flickr

3. Choose the Correct White Balance

To enhance the characteristic warmth of a sunset scene in your image, avoid using the Auto White Balance. Choose ‘Cloudy’ or ‘Shade’ setting, and faithfully reproduce the original colors and even enhance them to your liking. If you wish to use a custom Kelvin temperature for the White Balance, be sure to use something higher than 5500. The higher the color temperature setting, the ‘warmer’ your photograph will feel. (Of course, if you shoot RAW, you can adjust white balance in post production, but it's good form to get as much right in the camera as possible).

4. Shoot in RAW

To be able to capture the light and the dark areas in the scene that are typical of sunset scenes, do photograph in RAW. It also serves to help you in post-processing in case you need to recover details in highlight or shadow regions of the shot. Also, use exposure bracketing if you are only shooting in JPEG to allow yourself an option to decide which exposure works best for you.

Brown and green grass field during sunset by Jonathan Petersson

5. Pay attention to the composition

Utilize the Rule of Thirds as a guideline. Place the horizon along one of the two horizontal lines dividing the scene in three equal parts, keeping the horizon perfectly straight. Create a center of interest for your photograph by looking out for interesting elements to include in the shot. It could be anything from people to animals to trees. Try to capture a story by including a dynamic activity of some sort.

6. Boost the Depth-of-Field

Because sunset scenes typically contain elements from near foreground to a far background, you would want to maximize the depth-of-field to keep everything in sharp focus. Use a narrow aperture and focus at the hyperfocal distance to get everything from foreground to background in focus.

Sunset by snowpeak, on Flickr

7. Utilize silhouettes and reflections

Silhouettes add another dimension to an otherwise empty frame. They also help in emphasizing color in the shot. Include interesting silhouettes in your photograph to add a context to the scene. If you are photographing the sunset along a beach or a river, you can include reflections in your image and make them echo the vibrant colors of the sky.

8. Experiment with the zoom

You can shoot with a wide angle lens, or make use of zoom. By photographing at the telephoto end and including the sun in the photo, you can give it a more prominent role and make it appear larger. On the other hand, you can choose to shoot at the wide end to emphasize the grandness of the scene by including more of the scene in the shot. Play with both.

Creative independence by nattu, on Flickr

9. Change your vantage point

Sunsets are among the most popular subjects for photography. To lend a personal touch to your sunset photos and create unique shots, you need to go a step further. Find a different vantage point. Changing your location to a new one that is just a few steps away can sometimes completely change the composition of your shot. Explore all perspectives, and ask yourself which ones work for you.

10. Be quick!

When photographing sunsets, you don’t usually have too much time before the sun goes down. You have to be quick and move around to photograph everything that you planned. Be aware of your surroundings and always keep your camera ready to photograph anything that you think would make an interesting subject in your sunset image. Good luck!

Sunset balloon flight by Axel-D, on Flickr

About Author

Ritesh has been photographing since 2010 and his photographic interests have varied from nature and landscapes to street photography. You can see his photography on Flickr or on his website.

Good article. I like the tip about using the correct white balance, I’ve been using auto. I do have a question about filters, what is the best filter to use?

All the tips are good but you don’t mention the process of trying to capture a seascape with detail in both the shadows and the color in the sunset. Silhouettes are not the only way to capture the high contrast scene

A simple Rule of Thumb for setting your exposure … turn 45 degrees away from the sun, measure the light, then turn back and take your shot.

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