Capturing Sunset – PART 1- Basic Tips

Updated: May 3


There few natural scenes as beautiful as sunrise and sunset and fortunately they happen regularly at predictable times. What is more difficult to discern is the proper camera settings to capture these amazing displays of light. One thing for certain is that a DSLR in Auto Mode is not the best way to capture these moments – its time to Get Off Your A!

Before discussing camera settings there are a few tips that I’d like to pass along first.

Shoot RAW format (in this and every instance). Real photographers shoot RAW. RAW format will be large and you will get less photos on your card, but you will get better results and have more post productions options. I will save the discussion of RAW format to another blog post. Suffice to say – it’s better – shoot RAW.

Take off your sun glasses. This seems intuitive, but it happens – we get excited at the shoot. The additional darkness many glasses have filters/polarizers and what you see will differ what the camera lens sees. Frustration can set in as it is easy to think your shot is spoiled when it is not.

Take off your camera’s glasses. That is to say, if you have a filter on your camera, take it off. Polarizers will not help saturate the colors in a sunset. Same with UV filters (I don’t like these anyway). In both cases these extra flat pieces of glass will reduce the saturation and contrast of your sunset photos. There are times and places for these filters. This just isn’t one of them.

Adjust White Balance. This is a good time to take White Balance out of Daylight or Bright. Try Shade or another setting to get some richness of color. Results will vary, but I’ve found a Shade setting here gives a smooth result with excellent color.

Trust the Histogram. This is true no matter what the scenario, but especially true in low light conditions. Your playback screen is low resolution and has its own brightness issues. Never evaluate a low light photo purely on the look of it in playback. Check the histogram and review the color spectrum (more on this in another blog post). Histograms are true, quantifiable feedback from the sensor on the colors captured and should be trusted opposed to a qualitative review of a low fidelity LCD screen. In the digital world film is cheap, so keep all your shots on you card and evaluate your shots as part of your review workflow on your computer where screen quality and brightness are far more reliable.

Visit again for related entries:

Capturing Sunset – PART 2 – Composition

Capturing Sunset – PART 3 – Modes and Settings


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