5 Tips for Photographing Great Sunsets

By Geoff Harris

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: Francesco Riccardo Iacomino

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:

1: Check the weather forecast

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: Advait Murudkar

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.

2: Get there early

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: Paul Chamberlain

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.

3: Shoot silhouettes

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: Dima Vazinovich

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.

4: Make the most of the sky

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: lorenzo bestetti

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.

5: Wait

MyPhotoschool Monthly Photo Competition Winner Entry by: Kasia Sokulska

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.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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