Just admit it — you can’t help yourself from taking sunset photos. We all do it. The problem is that (since we all do it) sunset photos can be extremely cliche. So when the sun starts going down, you’ve got to think outside the box to get unique photos. Here are some tips to get your creative juices flowing.

Be sure to read the note at the end of the post!


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1. GO WIDE

While you might be tempted to whip out that super-telephoto lens and get up close on the sun as it goes below the horizon, you might consider going the opposite direction with your lens choice. The sky is pretty big and sunsets can cover a large portion of it. My lens of choice is the Sigma 10-20mm pulled all the way back to 10mm. This gives me over 100 degrees angle of view and it makes for some stunning landscapes and sunsets.

Sunset Flames

2. GET COLORFUL

Sure, sunsets can be really colorful and great on their own, but they can often look the same (especially when you live in an area with very infrequent cloud cover). My solution: shoot some slide film and get it cross processed. The blueish-green photo was shot with Velvia 50 while the pinkish-purple one was shot with Velvia 100.

Darkness Creeps In

Purple Skies

3. WAIT AROUND

If you’re with a group of photographers you’ll hear the shutters rev-up just as the sun begins to cross the horizon — this is when the colors are most obvious to our eyes. But wait around for another 10 or 20 minutes and shoot some long exposure stuff with a tripod. Even though you can’t see the colors, they’re still hanging around. After the sun sets, the upper sky will tend to turn a deep blue, almost purple.

Another Day Ends

4. TAKE TWO

Play around with double exposures and see what you can come up with. If you’re shooting digital, you could probably come up with all sorts of ways to combine your sunset photos to create alien landscapes. If you’re shooting film, just remember that areas of shadow will show the double image more strongly.

Alien Sunset

5. TURN AROUND

We’re programmed to shoot right into the sun at sunset — that’s usually where the fun stuff is happening. But take a second, peel the camera away from your face, and look around. Maybe that sunset is creating a brilliant lighting situation right behind you.

Colors of the Canyon

6. USE PROPS

Take the ramp, bike, and board out of this photo and you now have a beach sunset pic that looks just like 50% of every beach sunset photo ever taken. Look for things to place in the foreground in order to add more interest to the scene.

End of the Watch

7. FORGET THE COLORS

Sunset photos are generally known for their great colors, but sometimes pulling the color out can make the photo a better one. Focus on lines and shadows while you’re shooting the sunset, in addition to the other black and white photography tips.

Into The Sea

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Post your own sunset tips and photos in the comments! I’d love to see some tip/photo combos down in the comments. You can use the “img” hmtl tag to display images or click on the link below the comment box if you’re unfamiliar with html (please limit the photos to 500px or smaller). After the comments slow down, I’ll pick out some reader tips and photos for a follow-up post!

[UPDATE]: I’ve posted a follow-up article on this topic highlighting all the great sunset photos and tips from the readers — check it out! Definitely worth the read!

59 responses


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Great article. A Sunset can be taken anywhere in the world. Give your viewer some hints to help them figure out where the image was taken.

February 6, 2009 12:04 pm

Great post! Thanks for the tips; I’ll keep them in mind next time I see a sunset.

February 6, 2009 12:34 pm

Wonderful tips, Brian! I appreciate reading easily applicable content like this. The next time I head out for a sunset, I intend to turn around, just for a change.

February 6, 2009 12:40 pm

C’mon let’s see some photos!

Low Tide Sunset

February 6, 2009 12:45 pm

Silhouettes tend to be a fail-safe way of enhacing your composition. Get someone to stand between you and the sun.
[img]http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1198/950886063_6f71485cdc_m.jpg[/img]

February 6, 2009 12:54 pm

Thanks for this list, it’s straight to the point and very inspiring!

February 6, 2009 2:01 pm

OK, one thing you haven’t mentioned yet is HDR… this can be good for emphasizing the colors that are present and making the cloud patterns more dramatic. Works best on days with not too much wind, so the clouds don’t blur/ghost when the exposures are blended:
[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3131/2894222822_ef0de27a71_m.jpg[/img]

February 6, 2009 2:16 pm

Great stuff so far! Remember to link your photo by wrapping it with html or just leave the link in the text above or below the image so people can visit your photos on Flickr or your personal websites.

If you have photos on Flickr, just click on the “All Sizes” button, pick an appropriate size image (like 240px), and copy the html code into the comment box here. That code will show the photo and it will be linked back to your main Flickr page for the image.

February 6, 2009 3:16 pm

Here’s one I took on a trip to Saskatchewan a couple years ago:

February 6, 2009 3:27 pm

You could try HDR, as I’ve done…once:

Fire In The Skies

February 6, 2009 3:47 pm

Or, go for a detail shot:

February 6, 2009 3:48 pm

Awesome!

Just a quick note on the comments… apparently Askimet doesn’t like the comments with images very much because every one of them was kicked to the spam bucket. I had to pull it out of the spam, but it had removed the image tag. So I put the images back into the comments for you guys.

I’ve installed a different spam catcher and turned off Askimet, so we’ll see how it works from now on. Let me know if you have any problems making comments or posting images.

February 6, 2009 4:02 pm

Great photos, both in the article and the comments!

Here is my tip… Look to shoot the sunset reflected in an object. It can help to make the shot more abstract, and gets the viewer more engaged in the photo as they try to figure it out.

February 6, 2009 4:08 pm

Hmm… still having issues with the images being stripped out. Not sure what’s causing it. Just keep submitting them and I’ll fix them as they come in.

February 6, 2009 4:14 pm

I’m more of a sunrise person (as you can see by the last 2 pictures on my blog) but I was quite pleased with this one for one of my first shots with the 400D:

February 6, 2009 5:07 pm

Still having problems with photos coming through. Maybe it’s best to use the link at the bottom of the form to insert the photo and just wrap that inserted code with a link. I think WordPress isn’t happy with the img tags still. We’ll fix it soon — I’m seeking advice from another photography blogger.

February 6, 2009 5:12 pm

Try HDR. One commenter above mentioned it, but I wanted to emphasise tonemapping for realism, not effect. Halos and dirty clouds aren’t attractive.

[img]http://farm1.static.flickr.com/221/500738693_4e238a6537_m.jpg[/img]

Shoot landmarks or icons against the sunset. Locals will recognise them and those from elsewhere can discover a beautiful new scene.

[img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2150/2155746385_8e8659e30f_m.jpg[/img]

Strobe it. Wait till after the sun has set and use the fading sky as a backdrop for some strobe action.

[img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2408/2192596840_d53cc615f7_m.jpg[/img]

Get experimental. I took a full spherical panorama of an iconic church in New Zealand, and remapped it into a “little planet”. Here we can see both the last of the setting sun, and the golden-lit church opposite.

[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3262/2451914586_0c5b66dfd1_m.jpg[/img]

Thanks mate, great post idea and excellent community interaction! Well done :)

February 6, 2009 7:37 pm

Wait for the right moment:

[img]http://farm1.static.flickr.com/47/161487825_6637d3072e_m.jpg[/img]

February 6, 2009 8:29 pm

Just amazing ideas, it’s called out of box by the way but I never turned behind while taking sunset photo..

February 6, 2009 9:25 pm

Don’t miss the right moment. Here’s the photo of a sunset I shot from the balcony of our condo last year.
We’ve had 4 days of non-stop rain in Vancouver and then all of a sudden the sky has cleared and the sun was shining, just minutes before the sunset. The sky was unbelievably beautiful, see for yourself:

[img]http://farm1.static.flickr.com/222/476126304_b75ec8dfe9_m.jpg[/img]

February 6, 2009 9:42 pm

I’m pretty sure I got the image-in-comments thing figured out. So you can either post straight-up html from Flickr or use the link below to add the correct BBCode.

February 6, 2009 10:57 pm

Play with perception. Silhouettes work well, but get creative with them by using the +/- exposure control to really bring out the effect in camera:

2937041621_7a99ffedb5_m.jpg

February 6, 2009 11:03 pm

Great tips! Just one quick one to add: don’t put the horizon in the center–you’re photographing the sunset, so the sky should take up the vast majority of the frame.

February 6, 2009 11:12 pm

OK, so here’s a couple. The first one is of the wonderful light cast by a setting sun. The second one I incorporated Jeremy Brooks’ sweet ride, in the shot.

3096629293_3114f175dd_t.jpg 3192877962_40d541c16a_t.jpg

February 6, 2009 11:17 pm


Look for the unusual. Sometime certain weather conditions will throw interesting lighting out, even after the sun is below the horizon. For example this shaft of light.

3234086031_d07371f6fd_m.jpg

February 7, 2009 12:41 am

And for the exception to the "the sky should take up the majority of the frame" rule, here’s one I took that is mostly railroad tracks and train cars, but with the light of the sunset at the top of the frame and reflected from the tracks.

2595073653_9f46e4b110_m.jpg

February 7, 2009 3:22 am

Wonderful article buddy and the followups are just as great.

I will add my grain of salt to the discussion

Get low pickup a low view point

Do not include the sun specially if you follow your tip "Go Wide" with a wide angle the sun will look just like a small spot in the picture and will loose interest and would rather look like a dust bun or something

Use a foreground as focal point Include an object relatively big in the foreground to serve as the picture’s focal point

3188623049_75411fba49_m.jpg

February 7, 2009 3:43 am

There’s no need to get the sun in the frame if you’ve got something interesting in the frame….particularly a silhouette against the sunset sky.

1441753267_b5d75ead9c_m.jpg

February 7, 2009 5:44 am

Tipp: Why not go vertical?

This photo is a sunrise, but I think sunset and sunrise are very similar.

2846789610_42c4fa296a.jpg

February 7, 2009 5:56 am

Hanging around long enough, say about half an hour, after the sun disappears below the horizon gives you the opportunity to take some long exposures, and lets you include some painting with light techniques.

February 7, 2009 6:52 am

I like the tip about turning around. I’m trying to use this tip with all of my photography outings. As for sunsets and sunrises I like to look for elements if possible for framing. This shot is a sunrise.

3000065448_4eaec823f6_m.jpg

February 7, 2009 4:37 pm

Silhouettes are a good idea I agree – you can get something stark to stand out against the background.

2890185667_1e1c784794_m.jpg

Also, using a flash is a good ldea to let you balance the subject and the sunset

2969609907_00a287e987_m.jpg

I think you can get some nice effects.

This is a god topic, with a lot of very good responses.

February 7, 2009 6:46 pm


Sunset images taken in Zanzibar

[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3517/3261717293_f18b6900b7_m.jpg[/img]

[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3463/3261717289_66ca0ce1dd_m.jpg[/img]

[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3330/3261717287_66a215e1c4_m.jpg[/img]

February 8, 2009 12:39 am


A great article and some very vailid options for others to consider. I like the way this article forces you to "LOOK OUT OF THE BOX" and consider some other factors.

I guess my effort is a typical cliche ;)

3111149578_da35757d97_m.jpg

February 8, 2009 6:58 am

I love the sky a half hour or so after sunset, in this image I found something that might be pretty boring during the day, but has a whole different feel in the evening.

3226186121_854b13581d_m.jpg

This one might be somewhat cliche, but I tried to get silhouette’s of a couple mosque towers along the banks of the Nile, coupled with a relatively wide angle to capture as much of the clouds as possible.

3178433987_18ecf5aaee_m.jpg

February 9, 2009 12:50 am

I put my tip above, but I as I was reviewing the tips here I wanted to restate how important I think Brian’s #5 is. Turn around is a terrific way to get the out-of-the-box shot, and it is also SO MUCH easier to do, because you don’t get contrast issues and such….

This shot is from a sunrise, but I think its a good example…
2304064437_8f704544dc_m.jpg

February 10, 2009 1:16 pm

This is a shot i took some time back from my balcony in Kuala Lumpur. In fact there was a plane passingby during the 30" long shutter. Created a cool streak along the sky.

February 12, 2009 2:37 am

Greek summer dusk … from my balcony

3239013457_89ee6ddb24.jpg

February 12, 2009 11:52 pm

awesome pictures, there are some great ideas here, i can’t wait to try a few out, i really like the idea of a double exposure, it would make people do a double take. thanks.

February 16, 2009 8:40 am

These pictures unbelievably cliche. If you want to be a good photographer don’t take pictures of things like sunsets because the idea it self is already cliche. Get original and photograph something nobody has seen before.

February 18, 2009 10:16 am

I’m late to the party, but here’s one thing that I don’t think has been mentioned. Pay attention to the weather. You’ll get more interesting shots when interesting things are happening with the weather. This is an example of a shot of a sunrise while we were having fires in the area. The smoke and smog not only turned the sun redder, but cut down on the light which gave me more time available for shooting into the sun that morning.
1336796865_496aba5aa8_m.jpg

February 20, 2009 12:06 am




hBwrLU536170-02.jpg
(sorry for the "spam")

February 27, 2009 6:03 am

Wow the pictures of the sun is just amazing, and the sun sets, so beautiful. Lois, the one with the plant and the sun in the back is just glamorous. I love the feel to it. This is a photo of the only sun we can see with our naked eyes, and look how splendid the photos look.

April 3, 2009 8:40 pm

Another great idea would probably be to use small strobe with umbrella with green filter on the strobe. Of course strobe is used to light a person in the foreground for example. Then (this is for digital) you set your white balance to make person’s face look real not green and whole sunset goes wild with saturated purple colors!

April 9, 2009 10:58 pm

Awesome post Brian. You’ve suggested some great ideas to help steer clear of the cliche same old sunset photo. I am definitely a repeat offender of that crime. But next time I’m shooting at sunset I will remember your suggestions. I love the idea to turn around and try to catch the rest of the sky during a sunset, you can find some amazing things. And the one to use Black and White is a big challenge that I am ready to take head on!

May 14, 2009 6:14 pm

2509328110_7108c759af_m.jpg

I went for the way the sunlight was caught by the undergrowth, and a little lens flare

May 20, 2009 2:30 pm

It’s a double exposure — I moved the camera along the horizon to take the 2nd shot.

May 25, 2009 9:29 am

Enjoying reading your blog. Thought I’d try to add a comment (tip) & picture.

How about, look for the edge of light, and by using the sun as a compositional element to create a contrast between warm & cool light.

lmo-1345a.jpg

Cheers,

June 1, 2009 10:23 pm

Thank you for the informative post… There were several great points that were touched upon. I wanted to add my own submission to the pool. http://www.flickr.com/photos/littlerockphoto/3589065163/

I appreciate the shared knowledge provided by the comments!

June 2, 2009 2:09 pm

I favor the “Use props” image, as it gives the photographer more flexibility to add to mother natures beauty.

Great shots!

June 17, 2009 7:22 am


what about the sun rise?
2879073_022b5a6d28_m.jpg

November 19, 2009 12:17 pm

Clouds can add much to a sunset photo. The setting sun’s light is more interesting when it’s bouncing and playing off of available clouds. Much more interesting than a sunset on a picture perfect cloudless day.
3263186574_00a984539f_m.jpg

January 2, 2010 1:11 pm

Comment now!