If you’ve ever been awestruck by a stunning sunset, here’s our advice for how best to capture the evening sky on camera…
If you’re holidaying in a beautiful spot that you’d like to record for posterity or just have a special place nearby, the first step to ensure you capture a gorgeous photo of the sun setting is by planning ahead. Get your equipment ready – camera, charged battery, wide-angle lens, tripod – and maybe do a recce to frame up your shots ahead of the crucial moments when the sky looks at its best.
Check your directions
To make sure you get the best possible picture of the sunset, it’s a good idea to assess the location and light direction before the sun actually hits the horizon – that way you can think about silhouettes, shadows and composition so you’re ready when the magic starts to happen.
There are all sorts of apps available to help you see where the sun’s going to set on a given day – we like the Photographer’s Ephemeris, which is available on your gadget’s app store of choice. This gives you sunrise and sunset times and allows you to see where exactly the sun will disappear on a specific day – very handy for planning ahead.
Grab your tripod
A good tripod is essential for taking great sunset photos. It won’t just save your arms from getting tired – it’ll also allow you to take exactly the same picture with exposure adjustments, or capture the same scene as the light changes during the process of the sun setting.
Using a remote shutter release or your phone (assuming your camera has WiFi control) can help you to capture scenes without nudging the camera itself. A slightly slower shutter speed will allow you to record a little movement in trees, grassland or water – once your camera’s safely on your tripod and you’re happy with the composition, play around with your settings to see what works best.
Watch the clouds
If you’re lucky enough to live near a spot with a spectacular sunset on offer, you can afford to be picky about the weather conditions and wait for the right clouds to come along. Keeping a diary of the cloud formations and weather that results in the best skies can make your project easier. When you get a magnificent sky, make a note of the weather that afternoon – and eventually you’ll build up the skills to predict when a truly stunning sunset is going to occur.
If you’re faced with superb skies, you’ll probably want to make them the main focus of your shot – but you’ll also need to set them against a little of the landscape in order to show scale and give them context.
We’d suggest that for starters, you try placing the horizon along the bottom line (you’ll be able to turn on a grid overlay based on the rule of thirds by hunting through your camera’s display options) so the sky fills the majority of the scene, but so that you’ve still got a little foreground interest in the shot. Experiment with your chosen view to see what works the best!
Look around you
Sometimes the most beautiful aspect of a sunset isn’t the sky itself, but the colours and shadows caused by the setting sun’s light. To take creative sunset pictures, turn your camera around and capture the shadows cast by trees, or try a picture inspired by the red-gold light being cast on faces or illuminating buildings. If the skies are clear, the western sky will often go a deep blue – which makes an orange subject stand out even more.
Check your exposure
Shooting into the sun can play havoc with your camera’s exposure settings, so keep an eye on the histogram to ensure you’re not over- or under-exposing any area of the scene in front of you. Peaks to the right-hand-side of the histogram mean you’re likely to have bright white areas in your photo without any detail – so you’ll need to bring the curve back to the left slightly to reclaim those finer details.
Using exposure compensation alongside your Live View display and a histogram can give you creative control over your pictures. Taking a couple of different exposures will give you options when you’re back at your computer – and shooting in Raw lets you have the most possible control over finder adjustments.
Change your metering mode
The best metering mode for sunset photography is centre-weighted metering: this’ll give you an average exposure with both the sky and the land taken into consideration. Using spot-metering and placing the dot over the sky will allow you to turn the horizon into a silhouette – useful when you’re trying to capture the colours of the sky and not the land around it.
Don’t leave too quickly
As all good landscapers know, the actual moment of sunset isn’t the main event. It’s not until about 15-20 minutes after the sun has set that the skies become ablaze, so don’t pack up your camera too promptly – keep your eyes on the skies throughout and wait until the show’s definitely over…