Living in on the west side of Cozumel overlooking the Caribbean Sea, I rarely miss a sunset, unless of course it’s raining, cloudy over the horizon or a departing cruise ship just happens to be leaving and gets between me and the setting sun (Grrrrrr!). I love photographing sunsets because every sunset is a treat and every sunset is unique. It’s a special moment to begin to wind down, reflect on the day and settle in for the night.
You don’t have to be a professional photographer with a $1,000 camera to capture its unique qualities. There are a few ways to take beautiful sunset pictures with whatever you have handy – even a basic mobile phone’s camera.
This article about taking pictures of animals, especially the wildlife you’ll find while traveling, is part of my growing list of holiday and travel photography tips in a collection of articles I think you might find really helpful to get the best photos possible:
- Travel Photography Preparation and Basic Camera Maintenance
- Architectural Photography Lighting and Composition Tips
- Tips for Taking Photos of Drinks – Photographing Cocktails
- Taking Pictures of Animals – Wildlife Photography Tips and Tricks
Here are my favorite 11 tips for photographing sunsets…
Find a good focus for composition
While photographing sunsets it may be tempting to point your camera straight upward in order to emphasize the sky’s colorful array or the way the clouds provide contrast, in my opinion that’s actually the best way to fully capture the splendor of a beautiful sunset.
If the sky is spectacular, line up your shot so that the horizon or landscape falls about one-third of the way from the bottom of the picture (remember the “rule of thirds”) in order to provide a contrast as well as a point of reference for what the colors are illuminating.
Nothing bothers me more than a horizon that isn’t horizontal! Anything more than .5% of angle can really ruin an otherwise beautiful shot.
On the flipside of that, if the sky itself is not so impressive but the light is casts is, then make it so the horizon falls about one-third of the way from the top of the shot to emphasize what the sky is doing to the landscape.
If you are taking a portrait of someone standing in front of the sunset, use a flash (if your camera has the option, use a fill flash or less intense flash). Without the flash, your subject’s face will be heavily shadowed.
If a person is not your subject, also consider finding an object to serve as a silhouette, whether that be a boat in the water or a large tree on land. This can create a particularly stunning image.
Your ability to capture a sunset photograph is not limited to the time during which the sun is actually dipping below the horizon.
If you have the time, wait about fifteen minutes or so after the sun has set, too. There tends to be a second spectacular display around this time, often even more impressive than the first when their is greater contrast between the sun’s light illuminating the clouds as the sky is darkening.
The most photographic sunsets often take place behind clouds. Even if it’s a drizzly day in which you just want to stay outside, go out anyway at sunset and be prepared to snap a few pictures. You will thank yourself later! Many times when I think the clouds will completely hide the sun, the sun peeks out below the clouds and above the horizon.
(Yes, this goes for smartphones, tablets and mobile devices with cameras, too)
Whatever you’re using, it has settings that you can change and tinker with while while focusing on photographing sunsets.
Do not use filters – though editing is fair game.
Change your camera’s white balance from automatic or whatever setting you have it set on. Try switching to “shade” first if the option is available (it usually is), but of course feel free to mess around with any other white balance settings you have available.
Lower the exposure value. This will help to create a breathtaking contrast in your photograph. Again, even the most basic smartphones have the option to change this setting and it makes a huge difference especially when photographing sunsets.
Speaking of smartphones: look around for sunset and sunrise photography apps. They exist and many of them are free.
It bears repeating: do not use filters.
Oh yeah! Don’t forget to take off your sunglasses before you start snapping photos… I can be guilty of this one, too.