Photography Tips for Sunset Pictures

A friend of mine has a great place on Cape Cod and it is one of the best places in the world to photography sunsets. Because it is bascially the same picture, with different sunsets, every year, we've learned quite a bit about how to get the msot out of the scenery. Here's some things we've learned and some tips from some experts. 

Frame with the Foreground

Sunet with jetty foreground

From PhotoFocus:

FInd a compelling foreground object to include in the photo. A picture of the sun setting with nothing else in the photo for scale or reference can be pretty boring. Include an interesting foreground object such as a tree a pier an arch, etc. This adds depth to the scene.

Use the Rules of Thirds


Don't put the horizon in the middle of the picture. Use the Rule of Thirds. If you have a great foreground, give that 2/3rds of the frame, if the sky is spectacular, give that 2/3rds. 

Add Some Flight


Birds and planes flying through the scene can sometimes add context to the location. Especially on a beach!

Turn Away From the Sun

Often the clouds on the other side of the sun will light up in unexpected ways and create a beautiful scene. Check back there everyone once in a while so you don't miss it!

Look For Highlights and Reflections 

waningReflectionSometimes you can catch objects reflecting, or highlighting, the little bit of remaining light. In this case the water, and especially the umbrella, add nice touches to the shot.

Zoom in on the Clouds


If you have enough lens, zoom in on the clouds to catch some intersting patterns in brilliant colors.

Get Your Friends in the Picture


Getting your friends in the picture can add alot to the memories the photo brings back for you, and it adds great foreground.

Have Some Fun


Create some situations  where you can run around, have some fun, and catch some great silhouette shots. 


Some Setting Tips

If you have a DSLR, or and advanced point and shoot, you can play around with the settings to improve yoru shots. Here's some suggestions.

Depth of Field

From ephotozineWith most landscapes you'll want everything to be sharp and a small aperture setting is the simplest way to do this. This does mean less light will be able to reach your camera's sensor so you'll need to either increase your ISO or use a slower shutter speed. You'll often focus on infinity, but your autofocus camera may be fooled if there's a lack of contrast. Try switching to manual if AF struggles, or try using the landscape focus mode if working with a compact so the camera knows you want to take a shot that has a greater depth of field. If you want to include some foreground detail you'll probably need to pre-focus on that to avoid it looking blurred and you'll have to use a small aperture to ensure the background comes out sharp too.

Exposure Compensation

From DSLRTipsSet the exposure compensation to a negative value to deliberately underexpose the shot – a setting of -1 is a good starting point. Some DSLRs require that the compensation button be held as you make this adjustment. If the result is still too bright, choose a bigger number, like -1.5 or even -2. If the result is too dark, choose a smaller number like -0.5 or -0.3.

Exposure Bracketing

From Digital Photography SchoolAnother technique to try to get the right exposure is ‘bracketing’ where you look at what the camera suggests you take the picture at and then take a few shots at both under and over that mark. ie if your camera says to shoot at 1/60th of a second at f/8 you would shoot off a shot at 1/60 at f/5.6 and then at f/11. In doing so you end up with a series of shots at different exposures which will all give you slightly different results and colors. Most DSLR’s and some point and shoot digital cameras have a built in bracketing feature so you don’t need to do this manually – learn how to use it!


From SLRPhotographyGuideShoot the images in both jpg and RAW. Then you can open the RAW image later on in an editor like Photoshop and change the white balance to see which gives the best results. Personally I've found cloudy or shade white balance settings gives a warmer golden tone to the sunset.

Using the Flash

From ePhotozineIf your camera has a built-in flash you could set an exposure that would underexpose the background and allow the flash to provide the correctly exposed foreground detail, giving you a shot that's slightly different to the sunset photos we are used to seeing. 

I've used this quite a bit for portrait shots and to add detail when I have objects like flowers in the foreground.

General Setting Guidelines

Here's some settings suggestions from The DSLR Photographer:

Shutter Speed – Slow speeds won’t work, anything above 1/500 will. Generally speaking, my colors get really beautiful after 1/1000.

Aperture – The size doesn’t really matter, but to get less flare and other problems, make sure to stop a little bit and not shoot at the widest possible aperture. I select f/8 – f/22.

ISO – Always have it at ISO 100 (or lowest speed). The sun is warm and heats the sensor, and heat makes your images noisier. You’d be better of by choosing a slower shutter speed or larger aperture.


PhotoFocus recommends trying out HDREven though HDR is usually best applied in scenes where the dynamic range exceeds the camera’s ability to record data, HDR can bring about some very interesting results in sunset photography.

Play With the Aperture

CoolPhotogrphy has a great suggestion: Before the sun actually sets, stop down your lens’s aperture to a high value such as f/22.  This will make the rays of the sun more clear.  It will give the sun a starburst effect.  Very cool.