Sunset photography is probably one of the most ubiquitous types of photography around. It’s a classic that every landscape or nature photographer should have in their repertoire. Not only will you be able to sell these photos if you’re looking to monetize your photography skills but they are also very popular on Instagram which means more exposure for your photography business.

In this post, we’ll explain what sunset photography is, tips for getting started, and camera settings for taking stunning sunset photos.

What Is Sunset Photography?

As the name implies, sunset photography refers to taking photos of sunsets. In some cases, the sun will be the main focus of the photo, while in others, the main focus will be something else with the sunset as the backdrop to the photo.

An important tip to keep in mind when it comes to sunset photography is that the quality of your photo will depend on the weather conditions. Clear and sunny skies will give you a clear shot of the sunset but your photo will not be very dramatic.

Slightly cloudy skies will add interest to your sunset photo. However, dark and looming clouds might mean you need to schedule your sunset shoot for another day.

How to Get Started With Sunset Photography

Whether you’re a complete photography beginner or an experienced photographer looking to expand their skill set, there are a few basic tips to keep in mind when it comes to sunset photography.

Keep Safety In Mind

The most important tip is to keep safety in mind. Looking directly at the sun can damage your retinas and in some cases, it can also damage the sensor on your camera. Consider using your camera monitor to compose your shot before taking the actual photo.

Photo of the sunset
Photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash

Study Sunset Photography Examples

Taking quality sunset photos may seem easy, but it can be quite tricky to get just right. Before setting out to your first sunset photo session, browse photography sites and portfolios of your favorite photographers. Study the photo composition and see how they capture their photos.

Check The Weather Report

We mentioned earlier that weather plays an important role in sunset photography. Before heading out, make sure to check the weather report as this will tell you whether or not you’ll be able to take a nice sunset photo. You’ll also want to check the time when the sun will go down so you can get to your location and prepare for the photo well in advance.

Use Landscape Photography Apps To Your Advantage

While most weather apps will be able to tell you when the sun is going down, landscape photography apps will take this information further. Often, you can use these apps to calculate the precise angle of the sunset, shadow lengths, and other important information about the sunset. A few notable apps include SkyPhysics and Sun Surveyor.

red sunset
Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Camera Settings for Sunset Photography

When it comes to cameras, lenses, and other photography equipment, you don’t necessarily have to run out and buy new gear. Any digital camera that allows for manual control over its settings is a good camera for sunset photography.

The most important camera feature to pay attention to is the dynamic range of the camera. Wide dynamic range will usually result in quality photos without sacrificing too much detail in darker areas or an underexposed photo with great detail in lighter areas.

When it comes to camera settings, here are the recommended settings:

  • Set the aperture between f/11 and f/16 to get the best possible depth of field and maintain most of the photo in focus.
  • Keep your ISO settings low so you don’t wind up with a grainy image. Adjust as necessary as the sun goes down and the scene you’re photographing starts getting darker.
  • Set the white balance to auto mode unless you want to experiment with the color of your sunset photo. You can get creative with daylight, cloudy, and shade settings to get more yellow, purple or pink sunset photos.
  • Keep the exposure settings low so that the rest of your photo isn’t blown out by the sunlight

Sunset Photography Tips

Now that we’ve covered how to get started with sunset photography and recommended camera settings, let’s go over some basic sunset photography tips.

Keep Your Lens Clean

If you usually take landscape photos, you probably know how dirty your lens gets. A clean lens is even more important when it comes to sunset photography as direct sunlight will accentuate every speck of dust and dirt on your lens.

Cleaning your lens before you head out will save you a lot of time during post-processing. In addition to that, consider keeping a soft microfiber cloth, lens wipes, or a lens brush in your camera bag so you can easily clean your lens even when you’re on the go.

Use a Tripod

A tripod will help you plan out the composition of your photo so it’s definitely helpful to have one with you when taking photos of sunsets. Once you’ve nailed the composition, you can move on to getting the exposure just right. Of course, don’t forget to move around with the tripod to experiment with different angles instead of coming home with 100 photos that look the same.

sunset over the mountains
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Start Wide Then Zoom In

Part of what makes sunset photography so beautiful are the wide views. You want to achieve the same result so keeping your focal length between 14 mm and 24 mm. Wide angles will also make it easy to accentuate the starburst effect for a truly stunning sunset photo. Shooting at a wider angle will also accentuate the starburst effect for more dramatic sunset images. More on that to follow.

Once you have your wide shot, try zooming in with a different lens. Play around with different focal lengths, make use of the shadows cast by the setting sun, focus on a different part of the scene with sunset as the backdrop, and otherwise let your creativity run wild.

Consider Switching to Aperture Priority Mode

You might prefer manually adjusting the settings of your camera but consider switching to aperture priority mode for sunset photos. This will allow your camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed for the correct exposure, not to mention you’ll be able to achieve the starburst effect pretty easily.

Photo by Jasper Boer on Unsplash

Be Patient

Our final advice is to be patient. If this is your first time dipping your toes into sunset photography, don’t expect your photos to look stunning immediately. As with anything, the more you practice the better you’ll get and the better your sunset photos will be.

This also applies to sticking around after the sun has set and taking a few photos of the sky and the surrounding landscape. It’s precisely in those moments that the best colors will surface and you want to be there to capture them in all their glory.

Final Thoughts

Taking beautiful sunset photos is not easy but it’s not impossible either. With a high-quality lens, practice, and the tips shared in this article, you’ll be well on your way toward mastering sunset photography.