Photography and Art

Article: Sunset Photography

A vision in mind

Everyone likes a sunset. There is no escaping that fact and it is one of those type of subject matter that someone with a camera, whether an amateur or professional, will want to capture.

Just like sunrises, sunsets are a bit unpredictable. They are very much dependant on the atmospheric conditions and so glowing red skies can not be guarantee how a sunset will develop.

As is the case with shooting sunrises, preparation is all important and will help the shoot run more smoothly. Determining a decent location can easily make or break a shot. It is always good to have some predetermined image in mind of the kind of scene that is to be captured. It goes without saying that an appreciation of the sun setting times is necessary and the approximate direction in which the sun will set. Getting to the location in good time is essential to success as the sun vanishes below the horizon very promptly.


A digital SLR is not essential for sunset photography as a compact digital camera is just as capable depending on what you are trying to achieve. It is however important for the compact camera to either provide manual exposure adjustment or exposure compensation. The ability to adjust the method of metering may also be handy.

The tripod is an essential piece of kit as light levels will be decreasing. To keep yourself mobile and able to travel light a light weight travel series model is handy (but they can be expensive). Compact cameras only require a light weight tripod but the tripod has to be sturdy.

For the DSLR user this may be an instance where using live view may be more preferable to using to optical viewfinder. With the camera on a tripod it should be easier to view the image on the LCD screen along with the exposure information. Image stabilisation whether it is in the camera body or on the lens should be switched off.


The camera's white balance should be set to 'Daylight' rather than auto in order to ensure that the colours are registered correctly. With auto white balance there is the chance the camera will try and remove what it sees as excessive colour bias or cast.

Depending on the content of the sunset scene and the results envisioned, the aperture needs to be adjusted accordingly. However, if everything within the scene is a significant distance from the camera then the aperture set may not be critical. If this is the case the aperture can be set to give optimal sharpness from the lens. This may be in the region of f/8 to f/11 for 35mm or APS-C cameras and perhaps no more than f/5.6 for compact cameras using small imaging sensors. The reason for this is that with the small sensors and even smaller pixels diffuse comes into effect earlier as an aperture is closed down resulting in a softening of the image. The shutter speed will be set accordingly.

Aperture priority may be the operating mode of choice with exposure compensation applied when necessary. Alternatively, manual exposure mode can be chosen with the aperture set for optimum sharpness and the shutter speed adjusted to give the required exposure.

Be prepared for disappointment! If one evening there is a great sunset don't to be replicated the following day. There is probably a science to determining the likelihood of a great sunset based on an understanding of atmospheric conditions but I must confess my ignorance of it. EA.

There are a number of ways to shoot a sunset but it mainly comes down to whether you shoot it directly and or not.

Shooting Directly
Be prepared for a certain amount of waiting around before the actual shoot. This time can be spent finalizing preparations. Once the sun starts to set (say from about 5 degrees above the horizon) this is perhaps only about 15 minutes before the sky is completely dark.

Shooting the setting sun directly may initially seem exciting but it could lead to some dull and uninspiring photos. A clear sky devoid of clouds may look great when the sun is high in the sky but it can lead to uninteresting shots. It all depends on what else is in the scene and how much of the scene is taken up with the sky. A silhouetted mountain arrange or cityscape can add interest to scene and provide a context.

Cloud formations are what can add drama to a scene. Their usual gray look becomes transformed with gradations of shades of oranges and reds. Clouds appearing near to the horizon can look rather opaque resulting in some of the sunlight being obscured. The top edges of the clouds may pickup some light which can strongly contrast with what is an almost silhouetted formation. Depending on the position of the sun the sky will take various shades with the warmest shades closest to the sun and those furthest away coolest and resembling blue.

There are times when just about everything is bathed in dramatically striking orangey red light.

"This is not the kind of sunset I have ever seen in London or other parts of the UK but have seen in countries like Thailand."

Shooting Indirectly
With this way of shooting the impression of the sunset is perhaps less obvious and therefore not the main aspect of the scene. There are various ways to represent the scene and that is all down to your own requirements. It is down to the photographer to decide how obviously the scene will infer that a sunset is taking place. The effect of the sunset just may be used to add atmosphere.

It is whether noting when taking photos under conditions when the light cast by the sun is very strong that care must be taking to avoid clipping of the colours. This can easily be checked for on most (if not all) modern DSLR by viewing the RGB histogram.

At the stage the sun is under the horizon all is not over. There is a bit more light display to come before the dark skies take over. It's a time to do some good night photography as this often works best when there is still some colour in the sky.

Even if shooting in RAW mode it is worth bracketing exposures to ensure that the best image is captured. Get the best possible image possible in camera so that less work will be required in post processing.

Just about all that has been described can be photographed with many compact cameras. Camera phones can also capture respectable looking photos but they have great limitations with lower dynamic range and no optical magnification. Many provide some control over white balance, exposure compensation, and can force focus to infinity.

At the end of the day it is all about capturing a moment in time that will do justice to what you have seen and perhaps evoke good memories in those who later view it.


Mini News

22 November 2012: Sigma 18-250mm now available in Sony's A-Mount

Sigma Imaging UK Ltd has announced that the 18-250mm f3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM lens is now available at a suggested retail price of £499.99. Sigma's APO Macro 180mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens will shortly be available in Sony's A-Mount for a suggested retail price of £1499.99.


17 October 2012: Firmware update for Sony NEX 7 v1.01

Sony NEX firmware update provides the following;

  • Addition of capability to enable or disable the MOVIE button
  • Addition of exposure settings of bracket shooting (three frames /1.0EV,2.0EV, 3.0EV)
  • Improvement of response for showing auto review image.
  • Improvement of image quality when using a wide angle lens
  • Improvement of indication when setting “Flexible Spot”.

Visit the link: http://www.sony.co.uk/support/en/product/NEX-7/updates

Firmware updates are also available for the a77, a65, and a57.


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