How to Photograph a Sunset: The Ultimate Guide


Capturing the beauty of the sunset is not an easy task. Are you taking a quick shot and the photo is dull? Does the sun “burn” the photo and you can’t see the details in the surroundings? Or you are having problems with the dark parts completely coming together?  Here are tips on how to photograph a sunset.


Advanced Techniques

Shoot through different focal lengths – wide angles create far-reaching landscapes, but if you want only the Sun to be in the image, then zoom in on it. Keep in mind that the sun is only half a degree across, so when you shoot with wide lenses, you will capture only a small part of the image. If you want it to be the central figure of your photo, you will have to zoom in using a zoom lens up to 200mm or more. This will increase your need for a stand. Also keep in mind that looking at the sun can be dangerous, especially when looking through magnifying lenses.

Silhouettes as focal points – As with all photos, sunsets need a point of interest, and one of the best ways to do that is to try to capture some kind of silhouette in the frame. It could be something big, like a mountain, something that is part of the environment like a palm tree or a pier, it could even be a person. The great thing about silhouettes is that they emphasize the mood and context in the photos.

Rule of the third element – remember this rule. Although you can always break it, it is often a good idea to include elements such as the horizon, the sun, and the silhouette outside the center.

Light Exposure Techniques

Take pictures of different exposures – if you let your camera decide how to take a picture by setting it to automatic mode, you will probably get a photo that didn’t really capture the beauty of light. Very often the picture will be dark because the sky is still relatively bright. Instead of relying on the camera’s auto mode, sunset is the perfect time to switch your camera to aperture or shutter mode and take a multitude of images with different brightness. The great thing about sunsets is that there is no real exposure to light and you can get amazing results using light variations. Also, keep in mind that different light exposures will create a lot of different results, so it’s worth taking more photos, the key is to experiment.

Bracketing – another technique you need to try to get the right exposure to light is “bracketing”, where you see what the camera suggests you take, and you take pictures below and above that line. If your camera says to shoot in 1/60 second at f / 8 you would shoot in 1/60 second at f / 5.6 and then at f / 11. If you do, you will take a series of photos with a different light that will give you slightly different results and colors. Most modern cameras have a bracketing option, so you don’t have to do this manually and learn how to use it.

Auto exposure lock – another trick, if you do not have bracketing mode or do not feel safe using it if your camera has an “auto-exposure lock”, which allows you to point the camera in a darker place and lock the exposure for that place and then reformulate the image looking at the sunset. This will mean that you get more light.

Turn off Auto White balance mode – when you set your camera to “auto” in its white balance mode, you risk losing some of the warm golden tones of sunrise or sunset. Instead, try in “cloudy” or “shade” mode, which is usually used for cooler colors.

Tips and Advice

Tip 1: Be in the right place at the right time

Think ahead! Sometimes beautiful photos of sunrise and sunset can be taken spontaneously, without any preparation, but most often it is the case that the most beautiful pictures are the result of planning. Explore potential places suitable for shooting a day or two before you take pictures. Look for interesting places where you will be able to capture nature and wildlife, not just the setting. Sunsets only last for half an hour or an hour, so you will want to think about these things before you start shooting, otherwise, you might miss the opportunity.

Since the axis of rotation is not perpendicular to the circle, the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays is constantly changing throughout the year around the world. The lighting is not the same and the days are somewhere shorter and somewhere longer. You can watch when the sun sets in the selected area on the Internet or using the mobile application (iOS and Android).

Find out what time the sun will rise or set and be there at least half an hour earlier. Often the moments that precede sunset and those after are moments when the real magic happens.

Also, pay attention to the weather forecast. There are several types of sunsets that produce different types of light and patterns. Don’t shoot only on clear days, although they can produce beautiful colors, usually, the days when it is slightly to moderately cloudy are really magical. Also, keep in mind the days when there is dust or smoke in the air, they can produce amazing effects, but it takes experience.

Tip 2: Take your time

It is advisable to arrive at the shooting position at least half an hour earlier as this will give you enough time to find a suitable place. If you want to make a really professional shot, it is good to take a tripod with you, and if you have previously made the necessary adjustments, there will still be time for test shots.

Plan in advance what equipment you need. You can capture sunsets with a smartphone, compact digital camera, or professional equipment, which in addition to the camera includes, for example, a stand, lenses, spare batteries, etc.

Tip 3: If you are taking photos with a smartphone

The automatic exposure of smartphones is unsuitable for capturing sunsets. The image will either be too dark or too bright. In most phones, the camera application has the ability to adjust the exposure using the [+/-] symbols.

Option: use the phone to automatically adjust not only the focus but also the exposure as well. The review is too bright? Touch the screen in the bright field. Dark? Then tap the screen in the dark area to change the settings.

Tip 4: If you are using the camera

The options vary depending on the type of camera. All cameras have integrated automatic settings that adapt to the environment or the moment and conditions. Professionals generally use manual mode for perfect photography, such as low ISO value, narrow lens aperture (f / 8 – f / 16), and adjustable shutter speed. Only if conditions require it can you open the aperture or increase the ISO value.

Tip 5: Be creative

Make sure the camera is held straight so that the horizon is flat. If you want to take a photo with an exciting composition, put vegetation, a building, or a person in the foreground. Also, a good idea is if the silhouette frames the theme.

What You May Be Doing Wrong

One of the most common reasons why sunset photos don’t look good enough is the wrong frame selection. To prevent this, remember the rules of the third.

Apart from the very moment when the sun disappears from the horizon, beautiful photographs are taken during the “golden hour”, ie a short period (20 to 40 minutes) before and after. Then the light is softer than when the sun is higher in the sky.

You have not checked the weather forecast

It is very important to check the weather forecast first before taking a photo of a sunset. Pay close attention to the exact time when the sun is disappearing from the horizon, and consequently plan the exact time and place of your arrival from which the photo will be taken. Prepare in advance because the speed of the sun setting can be deceitful.

You didn’t bring the right equipment

A tripod is always recommended to be brought for clean photos. If you have a telephoto lens, take it too because the sun will look bigger to you.

You made a mistake in the settings

Feel free to lower the ISO to 400 or 200. If you are not a professional, it is good to set the automatic ISO sensitivity control because you will not have much time during sunset – the light changes quickly. Just one minute between taking two photos makes a big difference. If you shoot the sun directly, you can reduce the aperture so that the details do not “fry” in the photo.

You have selected the wrong frame

Additional motifs such as vegetation in the foreground, birds, roofs or ships, and unusual shooting angles. Silhouettes of people can also be effective. It can also be interesting to play with reflections in sea, glass, or metal surfaces.

You framed incorrectly

When choosing a frame, remember the rules of the third. If the horizon is in the middle of the photo, in most cases, those photos will not be as attractive as those where that line is in the lower or upper third.

Bonus – The Sunrise

If you want a photo of more interesting, strong, and clear colors, it is definitely best to point the camera at the right time towards the eastern and western horizons and photograph the sunrise or sunset.

It is best to photograph the sunrise ten minutes before the appearance of the solar disk until half of the disk emerges from the horizon because later strong sunlight slowly washes away the colors and they become much paler, and it is harder to draw them nicely in a photo processing program.

When setting the camera, it is best to set the ISO to 100 for the least noise, set the f-number to f / 7 to f / 11 for warmer colors, depending on the shooting time, as the settings need to be adjusted minute by minute as the brightness increases rapidly.

Since you are not photographing a NASCAR race, the shutter speed can be set from 1/80 to 1/200, and for a higher speed you would get a much darker photo, so you would have to adjust the colors again in a program.

If the Sun is already a few degrees above the horizon, it is necessary to set the f-number to f / 18, f / 20…, and the shutter speed can be f / 500 or even f / 1000. This is also desirable due to damage to the camera’s sensor from strong sunlight.

Frequently Asked Questions About Photographing a Sunset

Why are my sunset photos so red?

When it comes to the sunset, everything is the same as taking photos of a sunrise, only in the reverse order. The best colors are about 10 minutes after sunset, with red being more pronounced than at sunrise. However, there is more pollution in the evening than in the morning, and that is one of the main reasons for the more pronounced red color.

What are the best weather conditions to take a sunset photo?

By looking at the evening sky you can also know in advance whether the photos will be dramatic or idyllic. Scattered clouds are great light catchers and create an attractive backdrop. You should not give up in case of light rain because those photos can be great.

What is the best equipment for taking sunset photos?

Almost anything will do, as long as you know your gear. For my photos, I used a Nikon D5100 and a plastic lens 18-55 mm, and the parameters above are based on the experience of working with this camera, but it does not differ much from other cameras. However, the results you expect must be consistent with the equipment you use.

A Final Word From Run Gun Shoot

And that’s a wrap! We hope that this guide was useful to you and that you’ve learned something new on how to photograph a sunset. Of course, feel free to ask any questions you might have. Make sure you are staying safe out there and have a good one, folks!

Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

Table of Contents

Ready To Start Your Quest?

Now it’s your jump into creation mode and up your content game online.

To help you get started, we created a free video training that will give you all the tools and tactics you will need to get started even if you don’t have any prior experience.

Click the button below to join the training and we’ll show you our model for building an audience in the next few weeks.