Sunsets are reliably beautiful subjects and backgrounds for photography. Even when they’re not colorful and majestic, they still create a lovely change in lighting, which can make boring scenes look suddenly magical.
But sunsets can also be frustrating, especially for beginners. When a sunset is particularly gorgeous, you can feel discouraged trying to capture its full beauty in an image. Below are some tips and inspiration to help you tackle this problem and improve your sunset photography.
Sunset Photography Tips and Inspiration
All the following images came from our wonderful community of professional and amateur photographers. We held a Sunset Challenge, asking everyone to submit beautiful sunset images, and we were impressed with the results!
We’ve included images by established professionals in epic locations, as well as beginners in everyday settings, to show how you can use these tips regardless of your location and level of experience. Urban or rural, desert or rainforest, lovely sunsets are everywhere!
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Bring a tripod.
Whenever you’re in a situation with low lighting, a tripod is nice to have along. Particularly at the end of a sunset, your shutter will need to stay open longer to get a proper exposure. Without a tripod, you’ll likely end up with blurry photos from camera shake in this lighting. Although you can certainly jerry-rig a tripod using stationary objects like rocks and tables, an actual tripod will give you more flexibility.
Russell Becker – Traverse City Michigan
Go somewhere beautiful or famous.
A sunset can be a fantastic background for interesting locations. Even if the sunset isn’t spectacular, it’ll create great lighting for the scene. Right before the sun sets, you’ll get perfect lighting during the Golden Hour, and then afterwards, you’ll have moody lighting during the Blue Hour. These two times can make a famous or beautiful location look its best.
Keep an eye on the clouds.
If you want to capture a dramatic sunset, wait for clouds to show up. Although you can still get a pretty sunset sky without clouds, it won’t have the same drama as a cloudy sky. That’s because clouds scatter the sunlight, showing off its rich colors. Ideally, you want high or mid-level clouds, since those will bring out the colors of the sunset the best.
Terence Rutter – Sunset at Beechworth, Victoria, Australia (actual colors – no color editing!)
Shoot the sunset over water.
Reflections are another way to increase the drama of a sunset photo. By shooting over still water, you can double the size of the sunset and make it look more impressive. For more tips on shooting reflection photos, check out this post about reflection photography.
Ron Crosby – Beach near Auckland
Jim Higgins – Key Largo, Florida
Aiden Mahoney – Sunset Over the Bay
Find a nice silhouette.
Silhouettes are a great starting point for beginners shooting sunsets. They allow you to practice composition without getting frustrated with underexposed foregrounds. Unlike with epic landscapes under a sunset sky, you won’t have to work with filters or exposure blending to get everything correctly exposed. You can focus on composing the sunset and silhouette, and learn the rest later.
Vince LaPoint – Rialto Beach, WA
Capture a cool sun flare.
You can get striking photos of sun flares as the sun sinks below the clouds and horizon, or as it peeks around your main subject. When shooting a sun flare, play with different aperture settings to see what looks best. A wide aperture like f/5.6 will create soft flares, while a small aperture like f/22 will create sharper flares.
Barry Fisher – Sunset in Bacton, Norfolk
Fraser MacDonald – Morocco on the edge of the Sahara
Shoot somewhere with clean air.
Although air pollution can create interesting, hazy sunsets with a strong red color, it generally dulls the sunset’s vibrancy, as the pollution blocks the light. The most vivid sunsets typically occur in regions where the lower atmosphere is clean, such as the ocean. (That’s one reason why beaches are great locations for sunsets.) With less pollution, you’ll get sunsets with crisp, bright colors, instead of a grayish hue.
Wait for low humidity.
Like pollution, high humidity can create a haze that blocks the vivid colors of a sunset. That’s why winter sunsets tend to be more spectacular than summer sunsets; the dry, winter air makes the sunset’s colors look brighter. But if you’re not keen on shooting a sunset in the snow, you can catch beautiful sunsets in autumn, too, when the days are cooler and drier than in summer, but not yet freezing cold.
Be thoughtful with your composition.
Shooting a gorgeous subject like a sunset won’t automatically make your photo look gorgeous. Even when you’re using the right gear and camera settings, you can end up with boring images if your composition is off. After basic technical knowledge, learning good composition is the key to getting beautiful images.
In fact, good composition can make even a dull sunset look striking. When the composition is beautiful, the sunset will look beautiful, too. Know nothing about composition? Read these 10 tips to instantly improve your compositions.
If you think you know everything about composition already, look through this list of compositional techniques. You might find some new ideas to try out.
Ilina Bareja – NYC skyline
Experiment with creative ideas and techniques.
Though beautiful, sunsets have become cliché photography subjects. There are so many sunset photos out there, it can be hard to create a sunset photo that truly stands out. That’s where creativity and technique come in. With technical skill and creative thinking, you can overcome the cliché and create images no one has seen before.