30 Tips for stunning sunset photography

how to photograph a sunset

Sunset - Jim Harmer

Sunset Photography Tip #1. Underexpose.  This is the most important tip for taking pictures of sunsets.  Slightly underexposing the sunset will make the colors look more rich and defined.  The entire scene will become more dramatic.  You can underexpose by using manual mode and selecting a fast shutter speed, or you can shoot in aperture priority and use exposure compensation.

Sunset Photography Tip #2. Find the foreground first.  The best recipe for a good sunset is some object of interest in the foreground.  It could be a pond, a pier, or whatever else.  Just find something interesting to put in the foreground to add depth to the scene.

Sunset Photography Tip #3.  Don’t put the horizon line in the middle of the photo.  A good general rule is to put the horizon on the bottom third of the photo if the sunset is pretty, and on the top third of the photo if the sunset is lackluster.

Sunset Photography Tip #4.  TURN AROUND!  Sometimes the scene behind you can be gorgeous and all the photographers miss it because they are too busy looking at the sun.  The sunset produces beautiful warm light and a beautiful scene might be bathing in that warm light behind you.  Don’t forget to look over your shoulder.

Sunset Photography Tip #5.  Shoot in aperture priority with exposure compensation while the sun is still in the sky, and then switch to manual once the sun dips below the horizon.  This will allow you to have the convenience of shooting in aperture priority as the light levels change quickly before sunset, and then you can switch to manual mode to get a more precise exposure after the sun goes down.  In low light settings, the exposure meter on your camera will often be innaccurate, so manual mode after sunset is the best option.

Sunset Photography Tip #6.  Stay longer.  The sky will usually light up with color again about 25 minutes after the sun dips below the horizon.  Most photographers miss this second sunset, and it’s more beautiful than the first most of the time!

Sunset Photography Tip #7.  Create silhouettes in the foreground.  Just speed up your shutter speed and you’ll have a silhouette.  The key to taking a good silhouette shot is to find a subject with fine details that will let the sun shine through it and that has a recognizable shape.  If you have something too huge as the silhouette, it takes away from the picture since it is just a large area of blackness.


white balance for sunset photography

Sunset from white balance adjustment - Jim Harmer

Sunset Photography Tip #8.  Ditch auto white balance for once.  Change the white balance to “shade” and you’ll get beautiful golden tones out of an otherwise lackluster sunset.

Sunset Photography Tip #9. Before the sun dips below the horizon, consider shooting in HDR to capture most of the dynamic range.

Sunset Photography Tip #10.  Wait for the right clouds.  The ideal conditions are a partly cloudy day with spotty clouds.  When the clouds are just a flat gray sheet of cloud (one of you will surely know what type of cloud this is and inform me in a comment below), it will not light up as much.  Wait for patchy whispy clouds.

Sunset Photography Tip #11. Consider shooting panoramas or vertoramas to contrast the sunset colors with the other colors of the sky.

Sunset Photography Tip #12. Before the sun actually sets, stop down your lens’s aperture to a high value such as f/22.  This will make the rays of the sun more clear.  It will give the sun a starburst effect.  Very cool.

Sunset Photography Tip #13. Ditch the filters.  Yes, that includes. the polarizer.  Polarizers will NOT help saturate the colors in a sunset.  This is a topic I wrote about a few weeks ago.  Go check out that post for more info.  Also, UV filters are discouraged all of the time, but they should be outright forbidden when shooting sunsets.  The extra flat piece of glass–which is often not coated–will cut the saturation (richness of colors) and contrast of your sunset photos.

Sunset Photography Tip #14. Take off your sunglasses.  I promise if you forget to take off your sunglasses, you’ll think the photos are all darker than they really are because the LCD will look unnaturally dark.  If you forget, you’ll kick yourself when you look at the photos on the computer.

Sunset Photography Tip #15. Don’t get so carried away at looking at the pretty clouds that you get buck fever and focus on the clouds.  Remember that, for most landscape photos, the proper focus point should be one third the way up from the bottom of the photo.  This is a rough approximation of the hyperfocal distance.

Sunset Photography Tip #16. Shoot RAW.  I know you’ve heard it before, but sunsets are a time where this is especially important.  There is a wealth of delicate light information in a sunset that is simply thrown in the trash if you shoot JPEG.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Sunset Photography Tip #17. Look for objects which are reflecting the sunset colors.  Perhaps it is a building behind you, or a car windshield, or a still body of water, etc.  With the reflection, you can incorporate it into the larger landscape or just make it a photo of its own.

stunning tips for landscape photography of sunsets

"Heaven and Hell" - Jim Harmer

Sunset Photography Tip #18. The best sunsets seem to happen on the evening of a rainy day.  If the clouds start to break up at all around sunset, grab your camera and head out.  Just trust me on this one.

Sunset Photography Tip #19. Make sure to use a little flash if you’re shooting a portrait of someone standing in front of a sunset.  Otherwise their face will look dark and muddy.

Sunset Photography Tip #20. If you want the sun to look large in the sunset, use a telephoto lens.  If you want the sun to look small in the scene, use a wide-angle lens.

Sunset Photography Tip #21. Don’t forget to change your picture style.  This can be changed afterward if you shoot in RAW, but if you shoot JPEG, you’ll definitely want to use the landscape picture style (Canon) or picture control (Nikon).

Sunset Photography Tip #22. Watch out for birds!  Including a few flying birds in the sky can really add interest to a landscape.

Sunset Photography Tip #23. When the sun is still up, the bright light in front of you may make your LCD appear darker than it really is.  The same is true for the “second sunset” which happens 20 minutes after the sun actually sets.  When it is darker at this time, you might think your images are brighter than they really are.  Because of the varying light conditions that occur when shooting sunsets, it is best to trust the histogram rather than the LCD.  Don’t delete until you can view the images on your computer.

Sunset Photography Tip #24. Don’t get tricked into using the sunset icon on your mode dial.  That is an automatic mode and will take away your ability to choose a creative aperture, shutter speed, etc.

Sunset Photography Tip #25. Download a good sunrise/sunset app for your phone.  Just search in your smartphone’s app store and get a free app that will give you a calendar of sunrise and sunset times.  Never miss a sunset again!

Sunset Photography Tip #26. No mistake you make in shooting a sunset will be as obvious as an uneven horizon line.  Use the bubble level on your ballhead or the electronic level on some newer DSLRs to make sure the horizon is straight.

Sunset Photography Tip #27. If you’re shooting a portrait of someone standing in front of a sunset, be careful where you place the horizon line.  It always looks awkward when the horizon line is placed at the level of the neck of the subject.  You’re usually safer putting the horizon line around the person’s tummy or chest area.

foreground objects for sunset photography

Tiki Sunset - by Jim Harmer

Sunset Photography Tip #28. Make sure to clean your lens and sensor!  Dust spots will be obvious when viewed against the bright sky when you’re stopped down to high aperture values.

Sunset Photography Tip #29. Use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the sky and allow the camera to get enough light to expose the landscape.  The darkening of the sky will also add color to the scene.

Sunset Photography Tip #30. You’re in charge of this tip.  Leave a comment below (no registration required)  with your favorite landscape photography tip!


  1. Han

    #30 Use a tripod. The light change fast after the first sunset. It’s easy to go into the dangerous shutter speed zone. I tried shooting handheld and found hand shake blur on my monitor without raising the ISO. I want all the color and dynamic range so my tripod is always with me during sunset.

  2. Kathy Eyster

    A variation on tip #8: I agree with no auto white balance. But not all sunsets (or sunrises) are some variation of yellow/orange, which the shade setting enhances. Try the Fluorescent setting to accent the color of a pink sunset/sunrise.

    A variation on tip #19: If you add flash from the camera, its cool light will conflict with the warm light of the sunset. Put a piece of white tissue paper over the flash to warm it up. Even though the paper looks white, it photographs orange.

    And I also agree with Han’s tip #30…use a tripod AND a self-timer to ensure a tack sharp picture!

  3. Lee Weikert

    I would recommend using mirror lock-up and a cable/remote release if you have one, especially if on a tripod and shooting longer exposures due to the high f/stop.

  4. Author
    Jim Harmer

    @Michael W – Most filters will do more harm than good in taking a sunset photo, but a graduated neutral density filter will darken the sky and leave the foreground bright, so it adds color to the scene since it will not be overexposed. Clear as mud?

  5. GlenshanePhotography.Com

    The cloud type you talk about is stratus, also when you talk about shooting after it rains i would recommend that you go in search of the subset if the weather is forcast for thunder storms or convective showers as these will dissapate as the sun goes down.

  6. Dave Lemery

    Be familiar with your camera controls. Once it gets dark, you don’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure out how to change the settings.

  7. Louise Oosthuizen

    Thanks a mil for the tips. I am busy with my professional photography course and must do 3 landscapes. I think I will do fine now after reading this great info. Thank you!!!

  8. Scott Bowen

    More an anal retentive point, but on point 12 it was stated that the suns rays become more clear at the smaller aperture. Technically the sun doesn’t “ray” like that. The suns rays that are captured by the camera is actually a form of distortion that arises from an imperfectly round aperture (the little points that form the corners of the overlapping blades). The more acute the angle of these corners, the more accentuated the rays become. This is the reason that the number of blades a lens has determines the number of rays that are actually seen (you can count this yourself).

    It’s a VERY petty point, I know, lol. I’m an engineer though, so I appreciate the math behind the phenomenon, lol.

  9. John Corkett

    It’s digital. Shoot three exposures (or five) at +1, 0, -1. You can then HDR if you choose or select the exposure you like best and pitch the rest. Give yourself options.

  10. Constance

    Bring a flashlight! As the light goes down and you are staring into the bright sun, then you look at the back of your camera for settings and making changes, the flashlight will help till your pupils adjust. It will also help during that second sunset.

  11. jeff

    also be ready,never know when a green flash will appear. it’s 2 minutes from the time the sun hits the horizon until it dips below in Southern California. be ready. that last moment of a clear sun is magic.

  12. Dave

    #30 carry a flashlight so you can safely leave once you’re done shooting, or see into your camera bag. And get the flashlight out BEFORE it’s totally dark :)

  13. Filah

    I’m going to take a sunset photo later. i will get back to you. =D
    This is really helpful especially with the foreground element. I didn’t know about that.

  14. yojana

    Cooleest pics, loved them. I am new owner of Alpha 55 cameras and am looking for camera handlling tips. Pls share more article that you have for alpha cameras. I have checked many sites to read about these tips. Sony India also has some tips on landscape photography and some more tips for beginners, i would like to share here for everybody’s benefit. This was posted on their Alpha gallery http://www.flickr.com/groups/sonyindiaalpha/discuss/72157628711362415/

    Keep sharing more information

  15. Rachel

    Always amazed at the time I know you’ve put into these tips and the grief you must take from some. Thanks so much for sharing your time, knowledge, and experience. For free!

  16. Andy

    Sitting on the beach eating fish n chips… Throw the last chips up into the air a few at a time. The seagulls fly up into the line of the sun. – You shouldn’t be eating all those chips anyway…

  17. Mike

    Every real photographer should be extra familiar with camera controls learn it; practice it;
    and the dark won’t matter

  18. Rohan

    Thank You Jim

    I cut my teeth on motorsport and leart my trade there (never had any opportunity to do any photography study)and always loved incorperating the sunsets and natural sky elements in my work .

    Since I now do a LOT of sunsets due to my location 5 mins away from Frankston beach (I know a nice spot unused by photographers unlike Olivers hill)

    Down here calm nights with high cloud cover provide incredible color especially for the “second “sunset.

    Under exposure is like your best friend in my opinion to really bring to life the changes throughout the sky from the very dark blues to almost greens and the fire reds

    I even think I managed to shoot some form of red auroua down here but not knowing enough about them I really couldnt say but its a beautiful picture .

    Thank you Jim for taking the time to compile this really useful list that I will definately use to improve my work .


  19. Mark Cullenane

    I live in Darwin so get spoiled with sunsets.
    My tips, use a tripod, a cable release, under expose slightly, use manual white balance set to 8000k or so, keep to horizon level and away from the middle of your composition.

  20. Melody

    Heading to take photos for my b/f’s sister’s wedding. It is being held outdoors on a sunset cruise in Florida. I need suggestions on how to make them perfect!!

  21. hamed

    I have tried couple of exposures. yet my photos are looking very soft. colors are not saturated and overally, they are far from what these photos show.

    I wonder maybe its due to the wide open aperture (F1.8) or something else.

  22. Luis

    A reflector is a very good option if you want to do a portrait. Using a golden color reflector adds warmth to the picture, keeping a sense of a more natural illumination than using flash (unless it is a strobist flash, but that´s another theme).
    Congratulations Jim for your fabulous tips.

  23. Angela

    Thanks for these great tips! We live on the gulf coast of Florida and get some beautiful sunsets.

    Tip #26 reminds me of the saying, “A crooked horizon offends like a drunken sailor.”

    Hamed: Is your camera set to Vivid Color (Nikon’s words)?

  24. Sherry

    never forget that the things you may see everyday and think might be dull to photograph might be interesting or beautiful to those who live elsewhere. For example, if you live in a rural area, people in an urban setting may enjoy the rural photos and vice versa.

    Thanks for putting out the tips and running the online classes, have been a great source of info for me! I confess to running the camera totally in manual mode now.

  25. Hairi

    Hi Jim….just dropped on your site,…. interesting info, wonderful article and thanks for the great tips… suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas! Hope it’ll help me to improve my photography skills

  26. Daniel Highkin

    Thanks for the great tips. But I’m paranoid about damaging my lens. If no UV filter then what would you do to protect the lens?

  27. Ron

    To get a starburst effect…should the focus be on the sun.?….Also, as sun rays can damage the eyes…is it advisable to shoot the sun directly from the view finder…

  28. Kitrix

    Thank you very much for the great tips.
    Very well description.
    We are heading to Hawaii next week for some maternity photography. I am so excited.

  29. Marco

    Nice tips! Additional tip: please make sure to level horizon on sunset photographs with the sea in it. However nice or well processed a seascape photograph is, a tilted horizon looks amateurish.

  30. jc

    my tips would be:

    ignore what others say about underexposing – this is camera specific! if you find you are not getting enough highlight detail, then start underexposing a tadge the next time you shoot a sunset.

    i’d also highly recommend a 4 stop or so nd soft grad filter. makes a huge difference to the dynamic range you can capture and helps avoid the use of HDR.

    the last thing (hamed take note) is to understand the concepts of hyperfocal lengths. this dictates what aperture you should be using. many beginners will leave the lens wide open or stop down to the highest f number they can… both of these will result in soft shots. generally stick with f/8 to f/11 and only go higher than that if you have something very close to the camera. a good rule for those who don’t want to look up hyperfocal lengths is to focus on an object a third of the way to the horizon – this is because depth of field extends less towards you (from the point of focus) than it does behind.

    good luck!

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      @JC – Not sure I agree about underexposing being camera specific. Your point is well taken that different cameras will handle the dynamic range differently, but if you just shoot a sunset in aperture priority without any exposure compensation…. I’ve NEVER seen a sunset get the rich colors of a darker exposure.

  31. john

    you say everything but what setting? P,Av,tv,bulb i understand the rest but shoting sunset in what mode you mention everything but the barn…

  32. John Haldane

    I use the polarizer when the sun is still bright and just above the horizon. You can get the “sunburst” rays this way. (Example from a sunrise pic: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/sunrise-on-mount-mitchell-john-haldane.html)

    I shoot in AV and vary the f-stop between 8 and 22 (lower number for brighter skies, higher number for darker skies).

    I also shoot in Manual mode with bracketing selected, varying by 2 exposure steps. This gives options for HDR or better choices in Lightroom.

    I always take 2 cameras – one I mount on a tripod, the other is handheld. The one on the tripod has a remote shutter release to avoid blurring from jiggling the camera – especially when it is very cold out.

  33. Haggag Hassan

    Can some one provide the setting for portrait photographs
    in Manual
    and what pose do you prefer.
    am a beginner so your reply is highlu appreciated :)

  34. Jeremy Church

    I found it’s a good idea to take as many shots as you can. You usually get an hour where the light is changing rapidly. When I shot a sunset, in about an hours time, I usually take anywhere from 300-500 shots, it may sound like a lot but I usually get about 50 really good shots by doing that. Thank god for the digital age of photography!

  35. Duc Tran

    Haggag Hassan,

    Let say you use a 70-200mm F2.8 lens. If you want to have a blur background, set the aperture to F2.8 and change the shutter speed accordingly depending on the light available. If you have enough light, keep the ISO at minimum 100.

    For a sharper one, you can close the aperture down a bit to F3.2 or F4 and change the shutter speed accordingly depending on the light available.

    Talking about posing, it depends how your model looks, how he/she dresses … There is no way someone can answer your so general question :-).

  36. Chaz

    Try some shots in Black and White, Clouds can look quite dramatic in black and white, It also allows you to be more versatile with exposure compensation.

  37. David


  38. Harley

    I have a cannon 700d and I have no idea on how to do panorama. Is there any way that you could tell me how to do that. Thanks heaps :)

  39. S Sengupta

    Dear Jim,
    I found your tips really helpful. Using your tips, I have taken a few photographs of sunset.
    I would appreciate your comments on those. How do I post them and where?

  40. Matt

    Many thanks for an excellent and clear article.
    Recently, on holiday in West Kalimantan, I combined your tip #2 (foreground), tip #4 (turn around) and tip #7 (silhouettes).
    Please, have a look at the result (the two pictures with the three boys):
    Trip to Singkawang, West Kalimantan.

  41. www.ot.ufc.br

    ICP-MS is capable of isotopic analysis and can be used to ‘fingerprint’ lead sources on the basis of their isotopic composition.
    However, this is not the case, and there is a
    difference between the extensive work of angel wings cosmetic procedure and the extensive work earning our real
    wings one day. They selected 154 girls with Turner syndrome
    and randomly assigned them to two groups.

  42. W Brown

    If using a gredual ND remember to meter the sky and the foreground to see the difference in stops; using to strong of an ND can ruin your color you are trying to preserve. I use my trusty Gossen Luna Pro SBC, it will precisely let me know the stop differences so I can use the proper ND. With no handheld; no problem just meter the sky than the foreground and see the difference; now choose your correct ND filter. Have fun and enjoy the photo you have just recorded.
    By following the great tips in this article you will have no problem creating super sunsets.

  43. Rusty Iijima

    Thank you for the tips on sunsets. I live here in Hawaii and take a lot of sunset photos but
    my pictures never seems to look like yours. I will try your tips.
    Mahalo ( thank you )

  44. Tamara Ledkins

    Great comments, and I would also add shoot a white piece of paper and set white balance that way. Also, either keep the camera very level, or create a more dynamic shot with an artificial tilt.

  45. Sherrie

    I like to use a reflector instead of a flash so I don’t lose the colors of the sun behind my subject while taking portraits in front of a setting sun.

  46. Marks

    Hello.. I have learnt lot of stuff from here only.. It’s my passion and it would be very helpful for me if you describes more in sunset photography and night photography… If you are happy help then mail me please.. Thank you..

  47. Gareth

    How do you avoid glare when photographing the sunset? I’m aiming for the sun as a round ball but it always ends up with too much glare. Help

  48. Cedric

    I try to work on the angle to avoid the glare. Also, I noticed that if I take my 50mm lens, even with the hood, I have lots of glare. Then I noticed when I switch to my 100mm with a longer hood, then it reduced significantly the glare. Just let me know what you think. IF anybody else have other ideas, I would be happy to know it.

    Thank you

  49. Davd

    You had some great tips for sunset shooting. The information you gave was solid. I will think differently when shooting sunset themes.

    David Johnston

  50. Cindy

    Great stuff, as always Jim!

    Curious to know which of the above tips (aside from the obvious NOT) will work with sunrises as well? During a recent trip to Florida, I took several sunrise shots at various settings 1/15 – 1/30sec at f20-22, 24-90mm (24-105mm f4 Lens), ISO 100. I still had a ‘halo’ around the sun as it was cresting an island. I see from above you recommend NO filters (save ND). Any suggestions for ways to eliminate the red/orange halo?

  51. Caylee Rush

    These tips were INCREDIBLE!!! I have been playing a little with long exposure photos over the water and learned that an ND filter will help give you a wispy effect on ocean waves that can add some beautiful interest to the photo.

  52. Dawn

    Thanks for these tips. Today I signed up. Super excited, I love photography.. Guess we all do eh?

  53. Ingrid

    When shooting sunsets walk don’t stay in one place. Walk around and try different viewpoints. Sometimes the best shots happen when you don’t expect it.

  54. Anthony Farrar

    What shutter speed and aperture should I set for photographing the eclipse

  55. Joe

    Very helpful, I did’t know the use of filters is a no/no. Looking forward to trying out your suggestions soon.

    1. Ben James

      I know he said no filters, but tip #29 he says use a density filter? Still great tips for amateurs like me!

      1. Ladd Brubaker

        Realize that every tip doesn’t apply to every shot. These are different things to do to get good sunset pictures in different ways. The graduated neutral density filter makes the top of the picture gradually darker, so the landscape is lighter. But in some pictures you may not want that effect, so you change up what you do.

  56. Stan Rankel

    You forgot the most important tip of them all. No matter how your shot comes out. Make sure you take that second to stop and enjoy the beauty for yourself! No matter what you will never see that same sunset again so make sure you take it all in before, durring, and after shooting! Great tips otherwise! I have had people look at me funny when i “turn around” to capture what the sunset is setting on; instead of the sunset itself! Great tips for sure!

  57. Dave Sprague

    I live in Piedmont NC and have noticed that my best sunset pictures are in the October-March period. During the Summer especially there are plenty of clouds at many sunsets but they are primarily a dull gray/blue hue and are near the horizon. Under these conditions there are no bright colors. Any ideas whether this is a seasonal thing and what kind of clouds these are.

  58. Robert

    Sometimes when taking photos at popular tourist spots, I actually prefer to follow the turn around rule and get a great shot of the, sometimes tens and tens of people staring away or just going crazy with their cameras. It gets some odd looks but also a great contrast of light and dark and captures the moment at these packed locations.

  59. Juli

    I wish I knew what all these terms meant and how to WORK my dang camera so I could take better sunset pictures. It might take me a while to research all these tips! hehe.

  60. Xavier

    First and foremost I’d like the thank you for such a helpful post.
    My question is, which metering mode would you use for landscape photografy and in particular for sunsets and sunrise?

Leave a Comment