sunset photography tips

The Complete Guide to Sunset Photography

In Landscape Photography by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

Sunset photography is one of the most appealing styles. It’s one of my favorites, and if you are looking for a complete guide and some good tips to immediately up your sunset photography game you’ve come to the right place

Sunsets can be symphonies of beautiful colors, filled with shining orange, yellows, and dashes of darker soft shades. Coupled with the right settings and composition techniques, sunsets are often some of the most spectacular scenes to photograph. Shots of sunsets are key examples of why lighting is amongst the most important aspects of photography.

sunset photography tips

In this article, we will take a look at the different aspects of shooting at dusk, what gear to use, how to use it coupled with different composition techniques.

After reading the article to the end, you’ll be able to get fantastic shots in no time.

Related: Landscape Photography Settings

Sunset Photography Basics

First of all, let’s try to understand why is the light so beautiful during sunset and why sometimes certain sunsets are more photogenic than others?

The secret is in what photographers call the “golden hour”, which we have covered extensively here on the blog and you can find in these articles:

You don’t have to read the two articles if you don’t want, I’ll briefly explain what’s the golden hour in a moment, and you’ll also learn about the so-called “blue hour”.

First, I want to make sure we clarify that even though we consider sunset photography strictly related to landscape photography, the concepts explained in this guide can be applied to other types of photography too.

Sunset Photography: Golden Hour and Blue Hour 

This is the time when much of the magic happens. Depending on your geographic location, the golden hour can occur roughly 30-60 minutes before the sun sets completely.

Once it sets, the sky starts turning blue, giving you the ‘blue hour’. Generally, this gives us around 1-2 hours with perfect lighting conditions.

sunset photography tips

The golden hour offers soft light with a warm glow and soft shadows. The blue hour offers darker skies with hues of blue, giving it a much cooler shade.

Sunsets create a whole range of lighting situations for photographers, allowing you to experiment with different kinds of photographs. It’s up to you if you want to wait a bit longer to get those extra blue tones or if you’re happy with just the golden hour shades. I always prefer to wait and see what happens. Sometimes I’ve been able to get home with unexpected surprises since the sky can change its colors in pretty dramatic ways.

Sunset Photography Gear

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while you might know that I’m against spending too much for the shiniest and best gear. I love quality especially when it comes to lenses, but unless you are a professional, you don’t need to go broke to get good equipment for your sunset photos.

So let’s see the gear you need to capture sunset pictures.

Camera Body

To capture majestic sunset photos you need a camera with excellent dynamic range to highlight with great detail the difference between the bright and dark tones of a photo.

You have to also look at a camera that allows you to increase the ISO without lowering the image quality. Increasing the ISO is important since during sunsets you’ll have low light.

I have two articles for you with a complete list of the best cameras. It’s not necessary that you read them since I’m going to tell you what camera is best here.

Here are the two articles in case you want the full lists:

To make the long story short, a really good entry-level camera for sunset photography is the Canon Rebel EOS T7 i / EOS 800D. This camera is versatile enough to give you the ability to shoot in every situation.

If you want extra performance, and you have the budget, the Sony α7R IV is hands down the best camera you can get for sunsets.

Lenses for Sunset Photography

The good thing about sunset photography is that you don’t need special lenses to capture amazing photos. So you can save a lot of many and if you have even a simple kit lens you can go really far with it.

Here are some lens that can be used for sunset photography.

Wide-Angle Lenses. In sunset photography, you have to be able to capture not only the great light but also the majestic environment. A wide-angle focal length lens is a must-have for this type of photo. Any 18-55mm kit-lens or similar will do the job. If you have a bigger budget and want maximum sharpness, my absolute favorite lens is the Sony – FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM. It’s just so good!

Sunset Photography Tips

Read carefully these easy but important tips for sunset photography. You don’t have to apply all of them at once if you are just starting. What’s crucial is that you start applying these best practices to start seeing improvements in your photos.

Tip 1: Planning 

It is advisable to arrive at least an hour and a half before sunset to ensure that you have everything set up and ready. This helps you not waste crucial minutes of the evening, as lighting conditions change more rapidly than expected. 

Tip 2: Scout the Location 

Another great tip is to scout the location. Despite the lighting being the main star of the show, a good location can enhance the quality of the photos. By scouting out a location during day time, you can learn what sort of lens you need to use, what focal length to set it to, and most importantly, where to set up the camera. Keeping these in order will help you focus on what’s in front of your lens, rather than what goes on behind it. 

sunset photography tips

Tip 3: Composition 

Despite the sunset providing what is the best lighting conditions, the sky itself might have other ideas. Not every sunset comes with great opportunities for pictures. When looking for the best composition for pictures, you should factor in the clouds in the sky and the haziness of the air. A picture of a clear sky will result in boring compositions. You can make up for dull composition by highlighting the foreground objects, through a higher horizon placement. This technique helps you cover less of the sky in your photo and use your foreground to your advantage. If the sky is beautiful, you should highlight its beauty by lowering the horizon in your image.  

minimal photo of a boat at dusk

Tip 4: Use a Tripod for Long Exposure 

Shooting sunsets without a tripod is often a bad idea! Without a tripod,  the process becomes more difficult. You will need to deal with shutter speed and ensure that it does not fall below 1/60-1/100. There is also the matter of bracketing your shots, which adds to the challenge of taking handheld photos. A tripod will help you monitor every fine aspect of a picture and help you capture shots of varying exposure.  


Tip 5: Shoot in RAW 

Every photographer knows that shooting in RAW helps retain a lot of lost out information, this is particularly true when shooting sunsets. Using RAW files helps you recover shadows and highlights. When you shoot sunsets, you will face bright highlights and dark shadows, covering a dynamic range of light. Shooting in the RAW format helps you get an image without any clipped shadows and blown-out highlights. 

Related article: Forest Photography Guide

sunset photography tips

Sunset Photography Tip 6: Create a Starburst Effect 

This is the effect where you select the smallest possible aperture on your camera and shoot directly into the sun. This helps bring out the rays of the sun into prominence and increases their visibility. You can take multiple shots and then crank up the aperture to around f/20 to achieve this effect. 

Final Thoughts 

The best part about sunset photography is the fact that you don’t have to worry about going anywhere or missing out on it. Of course, a picturesque landscape such as a beach or a valley might enhance the magnificence of your photograph. But that does not mean you cannot take equally stunning photographs from the comfort of your balcony. Remember that every day presents itself with a chance to capture a beautiful sunset. 

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