The Magic of Sunsets

The magic of sunsets

The setting sun is a fascinating subject for photographers.

No two sunsets are exactly alike, so there's a new opportunity every day. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced photographer, they are always an opportunity for unique images. All you need is to consider a few basic points, to prepare well, and, most importantly, to be patient.

Knowing where and when the sun will set is important. You can find out by observing the sun or better still, checking the info on your local web site or weather channel. Remember that the best light occurs between 30 and 40 minutes before and after the sun sets.

Track the sun

You can also download applications to your mobile device that will map out sunrise, sunset, along with moonrise and moonset very precisely. To name but two, The Photographer's Ephemeris or LightTrac are among the most popular.

Of course oceanfront views and beaches come to mind. A body of water will create beautiful reflections and mirror the sky very well. But don't hesitate to feature other subjects in front of the setting sun to create backlit images and interesting silhouettes.

Sunsets are similar to landscape photos and also obey some of the same laws of composition. So remember to include a foreground subject to create depth, and look for lines to lead the viewer's eye into the frame.


Choose your camera position carefully and pay attention to the horizon’s location in your frame. Unless your message is the symmetry between sea and sky, you need to deliberately push the horizon to the top or the bottom of the frame. More often than not, it's much better to keep it away from the center.

White balance is another important point to check. Your camera's automatic white balance usually tries to make the light look like natural middle-of-the-day sunlight. This is exactly what you don't want!

You need to disable the camera's auto white balance and set it manually. Don't be afraid to experiment with settings: after all, you get a new chance to get it right every evening.


Lastly, you need to be careful about exposure. Sunsets are a challenge because of the enormous difference in light value between the sun itself and all the surrounding elements in the frame. You don't want the sun to be a textureless white blotch.

Again, trial-and-error experimenting is the best way to find out what works for you. Some simple cameras have a “sunset” or a “backlight” mode you can try. Others allow you to set a specific underexposure value. Advanced photographers will often prefer to set exposure manually based on what the camera is measuring. Once again, experimenting is key.

And one last thing - sunsets are beautiful, inspiring and mesmerizing... but don’t get hypnotized. Have a look around you and you'll see plenty of interesting subjects bathed in warm, low-angled light... more opportunities right before your eyes!