How to take perfect sunset photos

To take sunset photos, you need to set the right white balance and use light-absorbing filters

What's better than a beautiful sunset photo? The bright lights on the landscape, a glimpse of sun on the sea or the play of shadows. Few photos on social media are as successful as those taken in the last hours of sunshine. But taking a good shot in these conditions is not easy.

Setting up to take pictures at sunset is not that difficult. The main problem is the final effect. Often the sunset looks brighter and more striking to the naked eye than to the camera's gaze. How, then, to enhance these shots? Let's say right away that, given the speed of light change in the last hours of the sun, speed is of the essence. Therefore, to take good pictures at sunset, you need to practice a little bit to get the right dexterity.

How to set the camera

Let's start by saying that to take good pictures at sunset, you need to "force" the camera. In the sense that we will have to set it to keep the colors as they are in nature and not as the camera automatically wants it to be. The white balance, for example, is fundamental. But the real aspect that makes the difference is whether or not we use a tripod. If we use a tripod we eliminate the automatic ISO, otherwise the shot will lose quality. The automatic ISO, on the other hand, will be fundamental if we shoot freehand, given the different exposure times.

The focal length

As we have said, to shoot well at sunset we need to do some practice. So if your first attempts don't seem to yield the expected results, don't beat yourself up. The focal length in photos under these light conditions is also decisive. If we use a wide focal length and an upward camera tilt, for example, we will get an effect with the nearby subjects well defined and in evidence, while the sun will be small in the background and less impactful. A quality shot, on the other hand, uses an important focal length but with the camera perfectly aligned with the horizon. In this way we will see a good part of the sky in the shot and the sun will take the leading role, or co-star in the shot.

White Balance

We have already talked about the importance of white balance for a sunset photo. Now let's see how to do it manually. This is a must do because if we leave the white balance set to Automatic, the camera may try to correct what it sees as a dominant color, producing weak or distorted tones. So let's go into our camera's settings and select Sunset mode. Depending on the lighting conditions we could also try the Cloudy feature. Then there are some conditions where these actions are not recommended. For example, a clear and bright sky during sunset can reflect the white balance and depending on our choices the photo will be too dark or too bright. To avoid this just shoot in RAW. Which is also easier to work with after shooting.

Beware of the sun

The sun obviously plays a decisive role in sunset photos. Depending on the effect we want to give to our photo we have to decide how to frame the sun. If we want to give an effect of stillness, of purity, emphasizing small details and the play of light, we can shoot hiding the sun. For example, using a tree, a building or a structure large enough to cover the direct sunlight. On the contrary, if we want a very warm photo, with a sense of dynamism and a nice play of shadows, then we should shoot unimpeded by the sun.

Sunset apps

The main secret to taking perfect photos in sunsets, of course, is to be in the right place at the right time. This is easier thanks to smartphones. In fact, there are plenty of applications that act as real "calculators" for the sunset. These will tell you what time the sun sets, at what angle, based on the date of the year and your location.

Graduated ND Filters

To capture maximum detail at sunset, but also at sunrise, one suggestion would be to use graduated ND filters, which are accessories that are placed in front of the lens that absorb light only on half of the frame. Using these filters is not easy, especially if you don't have much experience. But with a little experience it's easy to get the hang of it.