Everyone can enjoy and appreciate a beautiful sunset. And let’s face it, no matter how cliché it is, photographing a sunset is an amazing adventure. Being able to capture the last rays of the day and the amazing golden light bathing the landscape is very fulfilling.
Shoot in aperture priority mode (A or AV)
- Mount the camera on a tripod
- Set the aperture to f/16
- Set the ISO sensitivity to 100
- Place the focusing point in to the lower third of the scene
With this default setting, you’ll get nice photos of both sunsets and sunrises. Of course, you can experiment with this setting and try changing the aperture setting. However, be careful when setting a large aperture. A large aperture lets go in a lot of light, and direct sunlight could damage the camera’s image sensor.
1. Clean the lens
Ah, the bane of all landscape photographers! Dust, dirt, sand and water spots. Nothing seems to attract as much dust as the lens hood. Try looking at it sometime after you’ve been out shooting. The sun will highlight every speck of dust in your photos. Sure, specks of dust can be cloned out in post-processing, but cleaning your lens before shooting can save you a lot of time with photo editing on your computer.
Cleaning your camera is an important first step when shooting in the sun. Microfiber lens cleaning cloths, lens wipes, a lens pen, and small ones that don’t take up much room in your calamari can come in handy.
2. Use a tripod
You can probably get by without using a tripod when shooting the sun. However, there are a few good reasons to get used to using one. When using a tripod, first create a good composition of the image and then after you set up the composition, focus on getting the exposure right. When shooting, try different perspectives and different compositions. Shoot with the camera high or low to the ground.
An important reason to use a tripod is that light diminishes quickly as the sun sets. This means that the exposure time may be too long to hold the camera. With a camera on a tripod, you can set a long exposure time without worrying about camera shake. However, pay attention to moving objects in the foreground, such as moving branches in the wind. Long exposure times can cause motion blur in these objects, which may not be the desired effect.
3. Take a wide-angle photo first and then zoom in
When photographing sunsets and landscapes in general, you will want to capture the scene in a wide field of view. A lens focal length range of 14mm to about 24mm is a good starting point for both setting up your composition and placing everything you want to shoot in the frame. Wide-angle photography will also enhance the sunburst effect and create more dramatic sunset shots. More on this topic to follow.
Try different focal lengths and isolate different parts of the scene so that the sun is on part of the frame. Try silhouetting a tree or other object against the sun. The only limitation should be your own creativity. There is no rule about what focal length is correct, so do what you want and have fun with it.
4. Switch the camera to aperture priority mode
Aperture priority mode is a good start for beginning photographers and will definitely work well for both sunset and sunrise photography.
On most cameras, aperture priority mode is set by turning the mode dial to the “A” or “Av” position. Aperture priority means that you enter an aperture number and the camera will automatically adjust the exposure time for the correct exposure. The camera will not change the aperture automatically in this mode unless you wish it to. This is important because the size of the aperture determines how much the scene is in focus. It will also help you achieve the starlight effect of the sun’s rays if that’s what you’re aiming for when shooting a sunset.
5. Set the aperture to a large aperture number.
The aperture setting determines the depth of field, or how much of the scene is in focus. When photographing landscapes, you will generally want everything in focus. This means the aperture will need to be set to a high number, usually f/11, f/13 or f/16. As the aperture number increases, the aperture of the lens gets smaller. A higher aperture number is also needed to get the star effect – the light rays coming out of the sun depending on the
6. Set the RAW format
There are a few exceptions when it may be desirable to shoot JPEG files. If you are going to edit your photos on your computer, set the format to RAW. Shooting in RAW format preserves all the image data and gives you much more room to edit your photos later. This can be very important, especially if you are shooting in an environment with a large dynamic range of color and light, such as a sunset.
7. Set a low ISO value
A lower ISO value usually means less grain (noise) and a clearer image. Set the ISO to the lowest native value for your camera, usually 100 or 200. If possible, try to keep the ISO value as low as possible. There are exceptions for ISO settings, which we’ll cover later.
8. Watch your exposure time
Once you’ve set your aperture and ISO, that leaves the third part of the exposure triangle – exposure time. If you’re shooting in aperture priority mode, then the camera will automatically set the exposure time for you. However, still keep an eye on the exposure time setting. To avoid motion blur, you may need to shorten the exposure time when shooting handheld.
You may need to readjust one or both of the other parts of the exposure triangle to shorten the exposure time. Since the aperture provides the desired depth of field, leave this setting alone. Increasing the ISO sensitivity will increase the shutter speed. For example, if the shutter speed is 1/15 second, increasing the ISO from 100 to 200 will cause the shutter speed to be 1/30 second. Doubling the ISO to 400 will increase the shutter speed to 1/60 second (assuming the light in the scene does not change). It’s a good idea to zoom in and check the image on the camera’s display to make sure everything that should be sharp is sharp.
9. Use exposure compensation
After taking a few shots, it’s a good idea to check the photos on the camera’s LCD screen and also look at the histogram. If the exposure isn’t what you want, then using exposure compensation is a quick and easy way to adjust. If the image seems too dark, use positive exposure correction. Conversely, if the image is too bright, a little negative exposure correction should soften the image. Experiment with it to see how it works and what level of exposure compensation you need.
10. Be patient
Photographing the sun isn’t just about camera settings. Don’t walk away as soon as the sun sets over the horizon. Watch the light and colours in the sky and keep shooting. Often the best colours come out after the sun has set. This is especially true if there are a few clouds in the sky near the horizon.
- 1 Shoot in aperture priority mode (A or AV)
- 2 1. Clean the lens
- 3 2. Use a tripod
- 4 3. Take a wide-angle photo first and then zoom in
- 5 4. Switch the camera to aperture priority mode
- 6 5. Set the aperture to a large aperture number.
- 7 6. Set the RAW format
- 8 7. Set a low ISO value
- 9 8. Watch your exposure time
- 10 9. Use exposure compensation
- 11 10. Be patient