Tips on shooting better sunset photographs.
When we are down at the beach shooting sunset shots, people ask me often how they can get a better shot. Here are a few tips to try the next time you are out photographing at sunset.
Have a Plan.
First, pick out a compelling location. A parking lot with powerlines is probably not the best location. Look for interesting landmarks that would make the shot even more interesting. For example, a tree. Look up when the sunsets and get there about an hour early. Some days, before the sunset is the best color and often here in the Pacific Northwest. A great strategy if the sunsets below clouds or fog. Summer is forest fire season and the smoke in the sky creates very vivid sunsets. Partially cloudy evenings are the best recipe for sunsets, as the clouds pick up the most colors. Don’t worry about the tree being properly exposed, silhouettes add mood to a sunset shot. Always expose for the sky.
Wide angle shots are great for creating a dramatic panorama, however; the sun will be really small. If you want the sun to be larger in the frame, then you will need to use a 200mm or 300mm telephoto. A telephoto zoom will need a faster shutter speed if you are hand-holding. For example a 200mm zoom, you will want to set your shutter speed to 1/200.
Set your camera to Cloudy or Shade. This will set the white balance to a warmer setting. A white balance set to auto or too cool of setting will wash out the colors.
Use a Tripod.
Use a tripod to stabilize the camera for exposures longer than 1/100. If you don’t have a tripod – look around for rocks, stumps, driftwood, and picnic tables. In a pinch, these work fabulously.
M = Manual Mode/Manual Focus
There are times that to get an accurate exposure, you need to put the camera in manual mode. This is also a good way to experiment. Start at f8, 1/125 and ISO 100. Put your camera/lens into manual for low light and focus yourself. Autofocus has difficulties focusing in low light and when there are not any objects to find.
Look behind you.
It’s easy to be focused on the show in front of you, but pay attention to what is happening behind you. Sometimes the colors in the clouds behind you are the shot!
Don’t take off too early.
Light changes quickly and even though the sun might have just gone down, stick around for another 30 minutes. I have taken some breathtaking shots after sunset.