How to shoot sunrises and sunsets?


Sunset and sunrise are magical times. It is pleasant and simple to observe these phenomena and even more so to make beautiful Sunset Photography.

For the photographer, sunset and sunrise are the working hours, the period of the most interesting lighting. Photographers love and appreciate the feeling of a turning point, awakening, or, conversely, falling asleep, which can be shown in the pictures.

Shooting a sunset or sunrise is not easy, especially if the goal is to make a truly beautiful and high-quality shot.

Good luck comes from good preparation. To bring more good shots from the shooting, it is better to plan it in advance. Think over your route, or better yet, mark it on the map. It is important to know in advance where the sunrise or sunset will be. The trajectory of the Sun during the year changes the place of sunset and sunrise will alternate depending on the season. Modern technologies help in planning filming. Some services will show you where the sun will be at any given moment. In addition, viewing sunset photography from the location of your choice on the Internet will be of great help. You should see how other photographers shoot at this point. Get inspired and think about how to avoid trivial shots.

Check the weather forecast for a clear picture

 In order not to get into a puddle, check the weather forecast. After all, spectacular sunset photography course or sunrises do not happen every day. 

  • Best for sunrise or sunset photography is partly cloudy weather. In such weather, there will be beautiful clouds in the sky, which will be filled with the colors of the sunset at the right time. 
  • Clear weather is also good for this shooting, but the sky can be empty and uninteresting.

But cloudy weather and rain can prevent this event. Keep in mind that a relatively accurate forecast can be obtained in no more than 3-5 days.  

If cloudy weather finds you on a trip, don't give up. Even in the most hopeless situation, the sun can still peep out from behind the clouds, giving an interesting light. To obtain the most objective data, it is better to use several forecast sources at once.

Scout the area for beautiful places photos

 Look for foregrounds as well as views. Exploration is an important stage in sunset photography.

  • It is better to arrive early to have time to go around the shooting locations you have planned at a calm pace, even without filming anything. 
  • See the planned locations live. Perhaps, during the inspection, more favorable positions will be found.
  • It is essential to shoot not so much the sunset sky itself as the scenes against its background. The sky is just a background for other things. 
  • Show your author's vision, show the viewer something new, unusual, impressive. For this, it is essential to find not only beautiful views but also spectacular foregrounds. This will help, firstly, to better convey the plot, atmosphere, mood in your shot. Secondly, a beautiful foreground is an opportunity in one frame to combine small landscape details (flowers, stones, textures) and, in fact, beautiful views. A tip relevant for any direction of photography: first imagine your shot, and only then pick up the camera.

Composition Tips for sunset photos

It takes a lot of practice to get beautiful shots, but you can take the photography course if you want to speed up the learning process. Here are some composting tips when photographing sunsets:

  • Don't place the horizon line in the middle of the frame. If the sunset is especially beautiful, give the sky two-thirds of the frame, and if there is not enough color, then place the horizon in the upper third, giving more attention to the ground.
  • Don't cut off the tops of your head. When photographing people against a sunset backdrop, make sure that the horizon line is located in the chest or abdomen but not along the person’s neck.
  • Don't get hung up on the sun. You shouldn't focus only on the sun because so many interesting things are happening at sunset! Look for cars, houses, shop windows, people, animals that can become the heroes of your sunset photos.
  • Create volume with the foreground. Just find something interesting and include the subject in the composition. Spikelets, flowers, or leaves in the foreground add depth to the frame.
  • Create silhouettes in the foreground. A good silhouette will work if the plot elements have a recognizable shape. Make sure that the black silhouette does not occupy too much of the frame.
  • Wait for the right clouds. Partly cloudy skies are ideal for sunset photography. The clouds in the sky will be illuminated by the setting sun’s rays and will serve as a great addition to the plot.

How to set up your camera for sunset photography

Let's take a look at some tips for setting up your camera:

Clean up the technique

Wipe down the lens and make sure there are no drips or dust particles left on it, which can make post-processing a nightmare or even negate all efforts to create a masterpiece.

Cover the diaphragm

Using the maximum aperture values ​​(such as f / 22 or f / 32) will produce crisp beams and a star effect. There will be exactly as many beams as there are blades in the diaphragm of your lens.

Underexpose the frame

Darkening the frame will make the colors richer and deeper. You can darken the frame in different ways: set negative exposure values, decrease the shutter speed, or increase the aperture value; this can be done in priority or manual mode.

Switch modes

When the sun is still in the sky, shoot in aperture priority mode to compensate for the exposure. And when the sun goes down, switch to manual mode, as the built-in exposure meter does not always work correctly in low light conditions.

Correct the white balance

Choose Shadow mode for warm golden tones, even if the sunset is dull and unremarkable.

Shoot HDR

Shooting several frames with different exposures and then stitching these frames in Photoshop helps achieve the sunset’s extraordinary colorfulness. When there is a lot of contrast in nature (a bright sunset sky and dull earth), the camera does not understand how to display the image correctly. Having set the exposure first in the sky, then on land or water, and then glued these frames together, you can get a rich landscape with equally well-developed areas of the frame.

Use RAW format

Unlike JPEG, RAW forgives you minor mistakes that can still be corrected during processing. True, you will need to spend your time fixing them. But if you shoot in JPEG, you will no longer have a chance to stretch colors and remove noise.

Don't go high ISO

At sunset, the light becomes less than at noon, but this is not a reason to increase the sensitivity above 800. Otherwise, digital noise will appear in the high-quality photo, which will be difficult to correct in the editor if you did not shoot in RAW. However, this does not apply to professional cameras with full-format sensors, which effectively deal with noise even at ISO 3200.

Use a histogram

Different lighting conditions must be taken into account. When the sun is shining brightly, the image on the camera screen may appear darker than it actually is. But when the sun has set below the horizon, the picture may appear brighter than it is. Therefore, it is better not to trust the screen but to use the histogram.

Change your shooting style

If you do shoot in JPEG format, you must use the picture style (Canon) or picture control (Nikon) landscape shooting mode. It will allow you to get brighter, more contrasting, and saturated images.

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Quality optics for sunset photography

Nobody wants to get soapy sunset photography with low details, especially when it comes to the landscape. In principle, modern whale lenses from the camera kit are quite suitable for shooting a sunset or sunrise shots. They are quite sharp and often provide a suitable viewing angle. But which lens should you choose if the kit lens no longer meets your needs?

  • In addition to sharpness, a lens for shooting sunrises and sunsets must also have reliable protection from bright oncoming light.
  •  Glare protection is a weak point of inexpensive optics and lenses of previous generations, of which there are many in the secondary market. 
  • Therefore, if you are going to change a whale lens for something else, then it is better to take a closer look at high-quality modern native optics.

Since sunsets and sunrises are most often shot at short focal lengths with a wide-angle of view, a wide-angle lens is most suitable. It will allow you to take spectacular landscape shots with the sun in the frame.

Get rid of excess glare, wipe the lens, remove unnecessary light filters. Of course, if you are shooting portraits or flowers in a flower bed, a beautiful lens flare can be a welcome special effect in your story. You can always add highlights if you want, but it should be possible to get technically high-quality sunset photography during shooting without them.

  •  It is important to understand that if the sun is in the frame, then the lens hood will not help us in any way to get rid of the glare. Keep in mind that extra glare will be created by all, even the highest quality, light filters. 
  • Therefore, if the sun is in the frame, it is better to remove all filters from the lens, including the protective one. Inexpensive Chinese-made Noname light filters are especially eager to catch sunbeams. It is better not to use them at all; they will not give anything except sharpness, color rendition, and the same glare.
  • Flare can also appear from dirt on the front lens element. Therefore, before shooting, make sure that it is completely clean.
  • There is one radical method of dealing with sun glare when you are doing sunset photography. With the camera mounted on a tripod, take a shot with a glare. Without changing the settings, block the sun in the frame with your own finger in front of the lens so that the photo turns out to be a picture with your finger instead of the sun. It is necessary to find such a position of the finger to cover only the sun but not the landscape. This will give you a second frame with no glare but with your finger. All that remains is to merge these two frames into one in Photoshop. A photographer using quality optics with good glare protection is unlikely to have to resort to this method often when photographing the sunset.

Dynamic range for sunset photography

If you want to take beautiful sunset photography over the forest edge, and in the end, you get either a luscious sky and black forest or elaborated details of a dark forest and a whitish, overexposed sky.

In this case, dynamic range refers to the brightness range of the tones displayed in the photography course

  • The wider it is, the better the details will be worked out in the dark and in the light areas of the frame. The camera has a limited dynamic range and can only capture a strictly defined range of brightness in a photo. 
  • Therefore, when shooting a sunset or sunrise, no matter how we adjust the exposure parameters, there will inevitably remain either too dark areas of the frame, devoid of details, or white spots in the place of the brightest areas. But for a sunrise or sunset landscape to turn out to be of high quality, expressive, we need details in both bright areas and dark ones. Different camera models can handle different brightness ranges.

Nikon DSLRs and Nikon Z mirrorless cameras are renowned for their wide dynamic range. RAW files obtained from cameras of this manufacturer allow lightening shaded areas with minimal loss and even extracting a little detail from overexposed areas. Perhaps the widest dynamic range is possessed by the 45-megapixel full-frame cameras Nikon D850 and Nikon Z 7. But, to the manufacturer’s credit, some more affordable cameras almost do not lag behind the flagships in this matter. But to capture a great sunrise or sunset shots, you need to learn how to get the most out of your creative tool. 

  • Shoot RAW. The RAW format offers great processing flexibility. It is possible to correct the picture’s brightness (lighten the dark areas in the photo) and the white balance with practically no loss in quality. The RAW format will allow you to get the maximum dynamic range for your camera in images.
  • Expose your sunset photography wisely. How the exposure is worked out will determine not only the brightness of the frame but also the quality of detail in its light and dark areas. In the field, it is difficult to adjust the exposure; ideally, rush, weather can interfere. To be on the safe side, you can use exposure bracketing. Its essence is that the camera in a row makes frames with different exposures; the user presets their number and the exposure step between them. As a result, we get several images with different brightness. At home, in a relaxed atmosphere, you can choose from them the frame with the most successful exposure, where the maximum of details has been worked out. Alternatively, combine all of these frames into one HDR image.
  • Use the lowest ISO. The minimum sensitivity is not only the absence of digital noise in your photos but also the widest dynamic range, which allows you to get sunset photography with details in both light and dark areas. The minimum ISO value may vary from camera to camera. The only reason to raise the ISO is to get a faster shutter speed, which is necessary, for example, when shooting in strong winds. To keep swaying branches and grasses clear, it is better to use shutter speeds no longer than 1/125 s, for which you still have to raise the ISO when shooting in the morning and evening.
  • Use a tripod for sunset photography. Shooting at a minimum ISO in low morning or evening light, working with exposure bracketing, requires a reliable camera fixation. If you try to take a shot in the evening at a minimum ISO, you will see that the shutter speed has become too slow for shooting handheld (if it is longer than 1/60 of a second, you can already get blurry shots). That is, to get a high-quality photo, you have to put the camera on a tripod. If we talk about shooting with bracketing, it is also more convenient to do it with a tripod, regardless of the shutter speed, so that all frames were shot from the same camera position. This comes in very handy if you decide to create a merged HDR image from handheld footage from a bracketed burst that may simply not fit together. A tripod is the best friend of the landscape and architecture photographer. 

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Closed aperture sunset shooting

When it comes to shooting the sunset with a full-frame camera or a DX-format sensor, it is almost always better to shoot at apertures covered up to F8-14. At these values, the lens reaches its maximum level of detail both in the center and at the edges of the frame. And the depth of field increases, which, with proper focusing, will make it possible to sharpen both the background and foreground.

In addition, with closed apertures, most lenses draw beautiful rays of the sun around the sun. These rays will decorate your frame. Perhaps the only case when you do not need to close the aperture is the desire to blur the foreground or background because shooting with a shallow depth of field requires an open aperture.

  • Look around; often, the most interesting things can happen from the side or behind your back. When the daylight is close to the horizon, photographers often stop looking around altogether, taking only shots with the sun. But making a high-quality photo with the sun in the frame is a technically task. For many, instead of beautiful sunset photography, a large white spot of irregular shape is obtained. To avoid overexposure, again, you need to learn how to work with exposure and dynamic range. Pay attention to nature, and she will reward you with unusual pictures. So, on the other side of the sun, there may be beautifully illuminated clouds or mountains. And with side lighting, all textures and volumes of objects to be removed will stand out perfectly.
  • Don't leave the set ahead of time. The Law of Dastardly As soon as you leave the location, the most spectacular sunset moment is sure to come. Therefore, even in hopelessly cloudy weather, stay at the shooting location for a while. In the case of a successful light, you shouldn't leave ahead of time. When shooting at sunset, after sunset, the blue hour and twilight await you. At this time, beautifully illuminated clouds will remain in the sky, and the overall tone of the lighting will shift towards cold shades. In these moments, you can do wonderful sunset photography. And if you have a city or village in your shot with a couple of street lamps, artificial lighting from them can be a great addition. When you are shooting a cityscape, it is after sunset that you will take the best shots when all the city lights are on. Patience is one of the most important qualities of a photographer; in the struggle for beautiful photographs.

With enough practice, you can figure out that taking photos of sunsets is not that difficult. In addition, this type of photo is one of the easiest, because nature does all the beauty for you.


  • What settings should I set for the sunset photo?

Examples of settings for shooting a sunset:

  1. Exposure: 1/13 s
  2. Aperture: f / 22.
  3. ISO: 100.
  4. Focal length: 28mm
  • How to take a photo against the background of a sunset?

Don't place the horizon line in the middle of the frame. A good general rule of thumb is to place the horizon in the lower third if the colors of the sunset are particularly beautiful and in the upper third if the sunset is dull. 

  • How to shoot at sunset against the sun?
  1. Step back into the shadows.
  2. Use filters.
  3. Play with white balance.
  4. Choose the right time for shooting, for example, at sunrise or sunset; in this case, the sun's rays will no longer be as bright as during the day, and you can take great pictures.
  5. Take pictures of silhouettes.
  • How to predict a beautiful sunrise for taking pictures?

At dawn, light can color the sky in all the colors of the rainbow. When the sun's rays enter the Earth's atmosphere, short waves of blue are scattered in all directions, more than all other colors, making the sky blue during daytime.

  • How do I take pictures of the sunset with my phone?

To get the perfect sunset photo on your phone, you need post processing. But there are many modern applications for this.

  • How to take an unusual sunset photo?

Experiment, you can photograph the reflection of the sunset in the water or make it tilted. To get a beautiful photo, you need as much practice and experimentation as possible.

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