I had the chance several times in the near past, when I had to photograph either the sunset or the sunrise. There is nothing better than getting up early when the city is still sleeping and the beach is almost completely mine and I only break the silence with the clicks. The same cannot be told about photographing the sunset, however, it also has its own charm. The experiences that I’m about to share now can be useful in any situation, when you have to photograph facing the sun.
0 RAW – I don’t know if I have to mention, but if you have the chance, always shoot RAW. The RAW in photography means that the camera stores every meta data beside the picture and this is very useful later during the editing. Imagine, that the pictures saved in JPG format are like Polaroids, whereas the pictures shot in RAW are similar to the negative films from the old days, which can be anytime recalled and we can make changes on the colors and lights.
Nowadays, most of the cellphones are also able to shoot RAW with using different apps:
1 Underexpose – This is one of the most important tips if you photograph facing the sun, because underexposure helps the picture not to be faded, keeping the debts and contrasts of the colors.
2 Foreground – As a first step, let’s find the theme for our photo which is interesting and looks good in front of the sunset.
3 Horizon – Never position the horizon in the middle of the picture, always a little bit higher or lower than the middle. The best is to position in the upper third of the picture when you have an interesting foreground, if not, then position it to the lower third.
4 Look around – In many cases not the most evident direction is the best, you should always look around, because in the case of sunset the whole sky flourishes in red-pink lights, which means that maybe a cloud behind us is a much more exciting theme, than what we have in front of us.
5 Aperture priority and manual – While the sun is above the horizon, use the aperture priority with exposure compensation, then when the sun set, change to manual mode. This guarantees the even light settings while the sun moves quickly, then with the manual mode you can reach with higher precision the perfect colors and ‘lights’.
6 Golden Hour and Blue Hour – Many people take their photograph about the sunset, then pack their stuff and go home, thinking that they already brought out the best of the moment and at the same time forgetting the ‘second’ sunset. The blue hour, when every shades of the blue can be found on the sky usually happens 25 minutes after the golden hour. It worths to wait for it, because your theme will react totally differently in the blue lights, therefore you can choose from many variations.
7 Silhouette – Make a silhouette out of the foreground, to this it is essential to find a theme that has a typical, unmistakable shape. To reach the desired result, accelerate the shutter speed until your foreground darkens completely, that your background’s colors and lights remain defined.
8 High Aperture – Before the sun sets completely below the horizon, set your aperture at f/22, which makes the sunbeams visible on the picture that creates an interesting effect.
9 #NoFilters – Remove all the filters from your lens, because these normally don’t help in a given situation, rather make things worse. The gleam that falls straight on the lens fractures on these filters that results strange glimmer and deteriorate the saturation of the colors.
10 Sunglasses – Don’t wear sunglasses and use LCD screen. In many cases the sunset seems to be unnaturally dark in the sunglasses therefore it’s hard to reach the optimal underexposed effect.
11 Reflections – Try to find things in the foreground that reflect the lights of the sunset or the clouds. In the city this can be a building, in the nature a surface of the lake or the sea.
12 Tripod – There is nothing worse than getting home and realizing that half of the pictures slope to the left, the other half to the right. I know I know, the “crop solves everything”. You have to try to make the best of every pictures, therefore I highly suggest to use a tripod.
13 Clean lens and sensor – I think it’s quite an obvious fact that a dirty, dusty lens totally can ruin a series of pictures and this is especially true if you take photographs facing the sun. The light first bumps the lens then the sensor, therefore meets every little dust, causing you many-many hours of extra work.
14 Editing the photos – Like in the case of other themes the edition process is the same here as well: everyone has their own styles and taste. This is the greatest thing in every form of art, and photography is no exception: the artist can decide how to edit the pictures. Besides this, it is very important to think about the fact, that the camera always sees different lights and colors than our eyes. The aim during the editing is to recall our memories and then try to reproduce what we saw or in some cases what we wanted to see, this part is our free choice.
I use the Adobe Lightroom for the categorization and edition of my photos, which allows to save the edits (presets). This makes the whole process faster and helps to create a consistent style, however, never forget that a preset is only a starting point and a given preset don’t work for every situation and picture, just like an Instagram filter can’t work on every photos.
Those, who are interested in my Lightroom presets for sunsets, can buy them here.