5 Tips for Photographing Great Sunsets
Photographing great sunset in summer is a much easier task than shooting the sunrise. Okay, sunset times are late in the evening but sunrise times are very, very early (factor in travelling and setting up time and it’s often not worth going to bed). The drawback of shooting at sunrise only gets worse the further north you go, particularly close to the time of the summer solstice (or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, around the time of the winter solstice). So, call me lazy, but in summer shooting sunset images has more appeal.
To make the most of the sunset opportunities here are five tips:
A colourful sunset requires just the right amount of cloud. Not too much, not too little. A completely overcast sky will produce no colour whatsoever (that said some of the most spectacular sunsets occur when there is almost blanket cloud but the sunlight finds its way through a narrow gap, often hidden out of view). Skies that are completely devoid of cloud can be equally disappointing. The sun drops below the horizon and the show’s over. However, not all cloud is visible. If there’s high altitude cloud this can colour ten, even twenty minutes after the sun has set. Sometimes you just have to be patient and wait to see what happens.
There’s no point in arriving at your chosen location just as the sun is setting. Arrive at least half an hour beforehand to decide on a composition. It will help if you know exactly the time and direction the sun will set as this will help you plan your shot(s). It’s a good idea to use a tripod as you can set the camera up and then wait. It will also, combined with a remote release, help keep your camera steady when you’re shooting.
If you’re shooting into the light your camera won’t be able to correctly expose both the sunset and any other subject you include in the composition. Expose for the subject and the sunset will be overexposed. Expose for the sunset and the subject will be silhouetted. The latter option is generally preferable aesthetically. To make the most of a silhouette choose a simple subject with a recognisable shape. If you include too many elements the shape of the silhouette may become confusing, particularly if the elements overlap.
Avoid splitting the composition into two exact halves. Be bold and try almost filling the frame with the sky, keeping the landscape relatively low in the image. Or, exclude the landscape altogether for a more abstract approach. Using a wide-angle lens will allow you to capture a greater area of the sky too.
Don’t stop shooting once the sun has set. If you’re lucky the colour will continue to intensify. I usually wait at least half an hour after the official sunset time before I think about packing up. Even then there may still be photographic opportunities. Dusk, particularly in a city, is a good time to be out shooting.