How to take Better Landscape Photos During Sunset

Aug 25, 2020

Landscape scenes lit under sunset light are often some of the most stunning. This gorgeous light, however, is only available for a few short moments, and then it disappears. Sometimes it can be challenging to capture all the images you'd like during this short time frame; however, there are a few ways in which you can make the images you do photograph count. There are also moments beyond the peak of sunset that should not be ignored. 

1. White Balance

Sunset light is often vibrantly warm at its peak, which usually lasts a few moments and only long enough to capture a couple of exposures. An increase in your white balance in-camera before and after peak colour will help draw out more colour depth within the softer pre and post-peak colours. Don't be afraid to capture your sunset lit frames using a warmer white balance temperature. Dialling in a Kelvin setting like 7690 or 8330 will infuse warm light into your straight out of camera sunset images. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f13, 1/13sec

2. Go even when the weather looks questionable

I want images filled with spectacular light and gorgeous explosions of colour. I think most landscape photographers do. We, however, are at the mercy of the weather. How sunset unfolds is dependant on many elements within the weather, all of which are beyond our control. Sometimes nature shows up spectacularly while other times, the light and colours stay quieted behind cloud drama or sunset occurs under clear skies absent of colour infused clouds. If you want to capture better sunset images, you need to head out at sunset even if the weather doesn't look promising. There are times when the weather will break, and you'll experience the awe and wonder you crave. Other times the weather will hold. Remember that all is not lost in these types of socked in weather situations. Look for ways in which you can create something beautiful in poor weather. There's always something waiting to be captured in a landscape. In less than perfect weather situations, it's up to you to find that beauty. 

ISO 100, 35mm, f13, 240sec

3. Stay Longer

I've seen many photographers pack up and leave even before the sunset ends. Light doesn't begin and end on schedule. Magic can happen at any hour and in all weather conditions. I've seen the most spectacular light come back well after sunset. It's worth it to linger a little longer after sunset officially ends. You might just be surprised by what nature will offer. 

Beyond the sunset, there's also an opportunity to photograph blue hour and the first stars. You've made an effort to venture out, so don't be afraid to stay a bit longer afterwards. There's beauty in every hour of the day. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f13, 180sec

4. Creative

Make an effort to try something creative at sunset. Long exposure is one of the easiest ways in which you can infuse creativity into an image. You'll most likely need a neutral density filter to achieve this effect. However, if you don't have an ND filter, try lowering your ISO to its lowest possible setting and closing down your aperture to it's the smallest setting as this will reduce your shutter speed. If you're in an environment in which clouds or water are moving, the slower shutter speed will showcase sky movement and smooth out choppy water. 

There are many different ways in which to infuse creativity into an image, and it doesn't have to be solely via long exposure. Try using a creative lens if you have one, like a Lensbaby, or change your perspective in your scene, or try using composition creatively like framing a view from behind a tree. Infusing creativity into your sunset images will help you learn about your style as a photographer, and you'll end up taking better pictures at sunset with the lessons you'll learn through being creative.  

ISO 100, 25mm, f14, 120sec

5. Experiment

On this particular night, the winds were blowing hard and cold off the waters of the lake. I was hoping for a reflection but didn't get my vision for this scene. I experimented with different settings and long exposure. To my surprise, I ended up liking the long exposure best as I think it infuses a unique drama into this blustery and moody scene, even with movement showcased in the grasses. 

Make an effort at every sunset to experiment outside of your comfort zone. Use composition differently, try photographing at a different perspective, pull out a different lens than you typically use, or even try shooting portrait orientation. Trying something new will result in your learning, so never be afraid to experiment. 

ISO 100, 19mm, f13, 60sec

There's always something to learn in landscape photography. Be open to experimenting and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Also, be willing to take a few safe risks. You might not be rewarded for your efforts every time, but eventually, you will. Look for the lessons you have learned in the images you think have not met your expectations because those lessons, once identified, will help make you a stronger photographer who captures better images at sunset and beyond. 

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