Sunset is an awesome time of day for photographers. The sun is low on the horizon casting warm orange light. Add clouds to the equation, and you have the recipe for great sunset pictures. When you photograph a sunset, the sun is a key player, but you need other ingredients for a great shot. One of them is clouds. Without clouds, you’ve got a boring picture of an orange ball sinking in a cerulean blue sky. You also need an interesting landscape to complete the picture. You can take pictures of sunsets with the skyline of your town in silhouette as the background. You can get an even better shot of a sunset when you have a body of water such as a lake, river or ocean in the picture. The water will reflect the colorful clouds. You can get some great sunset pictures in the final few minutes before the sun sets. After the sun sets, many photographers pack up their gear and head for home. This is a mistake. As long as the clouds don’t go all the way to the horizon, the sun will reflect warm colors on the underside of the clouds for about ten or fifteen minutes after setting. If you want really great sunset pictures, wait a few minutes after the sunset and get ready to take some pictures when the clouds are bathed in giddy shades of pink, orange and purple.
There are a couple of different ways you can photograph a sunset. If I’m going for the grand view, I use a wide angle lens such as my 17-35mm Tamron, and choose the smallest possible aperture for a large depth of field. Sometimes I go the other route and choose a telephoto focal length and a fairly large aperture for a limited depth of field. Recently I photographed a sunset at Caspersen Beach, which is a few minutes from my home. I used my 24-105mm lens and zoomed to 105mm, with an aperture of f/7.1. I focused on some nearby sea oats. The sea oats were in silhouette and in sharp focus, the clouds were a little soft, and the sun was a soft out-of-focus orange orb as shown in the following photo. But due to the telephoto lens, the sun is relatively large in the resulting photo, which makes it clear the photo was taken as the sun was setting.
Placement of the horizon line is another important consideration. Many photographers put the horizon line smack dab in the middle of the picture. This gives a confusing message to the viewer, he doesn’t know where to direct his focus. If you remember one of the rules of composition called the Rule Of Thirds, you divide your image into three sections vertically and horizontally. Place the horizon line in the upper third, or lower third of the image. If the sky is the most important element in your sunset shot, place the horizon line in the lower third of the image, which draws the viewer’s attention to the sky. If the reflection of the clouds in the water is the most important part of your image, place the horizon line in the upper third of the image.
It’s been said that Ansel Adams could predict whether or not there’d be a great sunset in Yosemite by looking at the sky half-an-hour before sunset. Ansel knew the weather patterns of Yosemite like the back of his hand and could predict what would happen. Study the weather patterns where you live. Observe the cloud movement in the late afternoon and soon you’ll be able to predict whether or not you’ll have a photogenic sunset.
A great sunset photo always grabs the viewer’s attention and draws him into the picture for a closer look. Use the information in this tutorial when you’re photographing the sunset where you live. Photograph the sunset often and you’ll end up with a portfolio full of great sunset shots.