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Tips & Tricks

How To Take The Perfect Sunset Photo

By Shivani Reddy on April 13th 2016

Want to know how to capture beautiful sunset images? We’ve got you covered. Take your sunset images from ordinary to extraordinary with just a few simple tips on exposure, color, & composition!

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Understanding Exposure


Your exposure will be determined by where the sun is in the sky – the higher the sun, the brighter the sky. The best way to expose for your sunset is by using your histogram, which shows you the overall luminosity or brightness in the scene. The histogram will become your best friend when it comes to understanding exposure while shooting landscape photography.

Colourful Sunsets


The longer you wait for the sun to set, the more vibrant the colors will be. When the sun gets low in the sky, we witness an effect called scattering. Some of the sun’s rays travel a further distance and hit more atmospheric particles causing rich & colorful sunsets comprised of a variety of colors. The combination of patience and the right exposure settings will result in a gloriously painted sky.

Composition of the Sun


Whatever you do, try to stay clear of bullseye-ing your sun! Think of it like any other subject in portrait photography and use the rule of thirds, or other compositional theories to help add interest to the final image. Take a step back and ask yourself what the most exciting part of the image is, and focus on creatively capturing that.


Understanding these 3 key components of how to capture the perfect sunset image will take your photos to new heights. When you master the technical aspects of exposure, then you can move on to the artistic aspects of photography.

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Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rob Ruttan

    Maybe I’m just hopeless,! I understood the explanation of the histogram but don’t know what to do with the information. Does a histogram of a certain shape mean I have a good exposure, etc.?

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    What I do for sunrises and sunsets is change my exposure compensation to -2/3. That is one thing that I often forget to reset on my DSLR once I’ve finished with my photo series; on my film cameras, it’s easy to look at the ISO dial; with my 5D, it requires a menu button.

    Clouds do make sunrise and sunset photos pop. I had a year long project where I photographed the sunrise over Columbia, SC from the Lake Murray dam on the solstices and equinoxes. That was the year I shot B&W film exclusively. For the winter equinox, there was a 45 MPH wind blowing off the lake and there was not a cloud in the sky; that series was boring.

    Below is a link to a color photo from the vantage point of the dam:

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  3. Pye Jirsa

    Shiv this was so great! I love watching you on-camera, you are such a natural… and much easier on the eyes than myself ;)

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  4. William Irwin

    If you are taking photos with families, sometimes its a good idea to stick around just after sunset. The sky becomes saturated making your off camera flash (OCF) really pop.

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  5. robert garfinkle

    One of the reasons I purchased a camera, was for sunsets and sunrises. Don’t get me wrong, there is a never ending stream of things in life to take pictures of, and more…

    But, at the end of the day (all pun intended) – sunsets and sunrises kick ass…

    these are great tips.

    as for what I do now, the colors through the clouds / sky are more my main focal point vs. landmarks or sun’s position – leaving me at fault, as I might position the sun in the center of the photo, or a tree sticks out like a sore thumb… I also have a tendency to purposefully underexpose for vividness. I think a properly exposed image is, well, boring.

    all I am saying is, I look to capture the emotion / color over composition – a professional photographer would say ick (and they have) but for anyone else, they emote…

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    • Shivani Reddy

      I love that Robert! Finding emotion in nature is a brilliant way to creatively think about your subject material. A little underexposure never hurt nobody ;)

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