7 Steps to Perfect Sunset & Sunrise Photos

sunset11Summer is here and when we say summer, we think holidays, weekends at the cottage and romantic walks in the park. And what better opportunities to take sunrise and sunset photos! 🙂 You’ll probably be taking quite a few sunsets (and maybe just a few less sunrises ;)) so why not get a head start. Lets go through some of the basics together. Feel free to post your sunset/sunrise photos to share.

I’ve listed 7 steps to make it more “userfriendly” and easier to follow. Let’s get started shall we? 🙂


Step 1 – Scouting: Sounds basic enough but this step is very important. It will save you a lot of time if you plan ahead and look for that perfect spot. Once you find a great rural or urban scape for your sunset and sunrise shots, don’t forget to look at where east and west are (sunrise & sunset respectively) and see if your perfect shot can be done. Also look at what times the sun actually rises and sets. 😉 The local weather station should be able to give you that information.


Step 2 – Setting your white balance (WB): This is a challenging one if you think that just selecting one WB setting will be perfect. The reason is simple. As the sun sets (or rises) the warmth of the light changes and if the warmth changes, the WB will change as well. Some photographers will put their WB to daylight by default and this usually gives nice warm tones. If you have a camera with presets, you might find a ‘sunset’ preset. Use it because it has a preset WB setting just for this situation (usually close to daylight). If you shoot in RAW format (which I recommend if your camera gives you the option) you can manually adjust the WB in most photo post processing software like Adobe Photoshop™ or Lightroom™. Since I shoot in RAW, I don’t want to have to worry about changing my WB settings constantly so I keep it on Auto. I actually find the Auto setting on my Nikon D300 (and my previous D200) to be quite accurate. If you want to get a specific mood, I suggest that you take some test shots at various WB settings and look at what your camera’s LCD gives you.


Step 3 – Composition: As for any shots, composition plays a major role in your photography. For sunsets, we have a tendency to shoot in landscape format (horizontal) and that’s good but I can also suggest to take a few shots in portrait mode (vertical). It will give you a new perspective that could be interesting. We also usually center the sun by default so lets try applying the rule of 3rds and off-centering both the sun and the horizon. Last but not least, try to keep your shot simple. Avoid too many unwanted clutter in your frame. Remember what the focus of your shot is. For more information on composition click here to visit Jodie Coston’s tutorial. It’s simple and to the point.


Step 4 – Exposure: If you’re looking for rich vibrant colors, try underexposing your shot between 1 and 2 stops. You can do that easily if you have an EV (Exposure Value) button on your camera. Just bring it down to -1 and see if you need to go lower. It’s a question of personal taste at this point. To create a different effect, you could try overexposing your shot. This will give you more pastel looking colors. In some situations, it can give a great feel to the image.


Step 5 – Don’t look straight at the sun!: That’s very important. We don’t naturally look directly at the sun but with a camera, looking through the viewfinder, we are instinctively prone to take our time and compose our shot. Try to compose quickly and when doing so, not looking directly at the sun in your frame. Focus your eye on the foreground or another object in the frame. You could cause irreversible damage even complete blindness.


Step 6 – Don’t leave with the sun: Most people will get their shots while the sun is still visible and then pack up and leave. Ok, you got some good shots, but Mother Nature hasn’t finished painting her canvas just yet! Some of the richest colors can occur after the sun has set (or before it rises). You can get great silhouette shots by underexposing them.  Bring your tripod along as well as it will get darker pretty quickly and you’ll need longer shutter speeds.


Step 7 – Look behind you: Yes, you heard me right. Turn around and see where that lovely sun is painting. You just might find a surprisingly beautiful scene. It could be a wheat field like seems on fire or a reflection in a window. Remember that the best light to shoot in is when the sun is at its lowest (ie: sunset & sunrise). So snoop over your shoulderand you might just find your perfect shot of the day. 🙂

Here are more photos for your enjoyment. 🙂


This tutorialis also a Knol

8 responses on "7 Steps to Perfect Sunset & Sunrise Photos"

  1. great pictures and great tips =^^=

  2. great tips/great site,it’s a keeper!

  3. Yanik,
    These photographs have left me speechless, to say the least. Your compositions have almost removed the boundary between photography and art. I really enjoyed looking at your pictures. Amazing. Thanks to you, I have seen mother nature in all her glory. I have seen several sun rises and sun sets but I have never seen such beauty before. Thank you.

  4. Hi Yanik

    Thanks for great tips .I love night and low light photography.
    Sunsets and silhouettes are my fav so these tips are very helpful.
    One more experiment I have done while clicking sunset , its using flash against sunlight.That gives extra amber / orange color to photograph.
    Hope to learn more from you



  5. These are all great tips. I’m always trying to figure out exposure settings to get the best possible results. Thankfully, with digital, experimentation doesn’t cost me a thing. 😀 I really enjoyed the example shots you included in the post. Great images!

  6. Thanks for the Canon tip Stevo. Being a Nikon shooter I wouldn’t have known this. 🙂

  7. Great pictures Yanik and great tips as well. I think the scouting part is the hardest. Finding a perfect spot for a perfect sunset can be tough. I missed my days in Sept-Iles when the sun was setting on the other side of the bay and when the sunrises were directely over water. Too bad I wasn’t a photograph by then.


  8. Great tips. Underexposure is key.

    Changing the metering mode is also important. Canon’s evaluative metering is useless during sunrise/sunsets. You need to change to spot/center-weighted metering for best results.

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