Capturing Sunset – PART 2 – Composition

Updated: May 3


In this second post on sunsets, we'll discuss composition. Composition for sunset shots may seem like a simple endeavor, but there are plenty of creative decisions that make the photo. While there is a tendency to place the sun at the middle of the frame, its important to resist that temptation and explore options.

Caution: Wherever you decide to frame the sun it is extremely important not to attempt to focus on the sun itself - at worst its bad for your vision and at a minimum it could impair your vision while you're trying to take pictures.

Focus and Recompose: Recall from previous posts we want to underexpose this photo. Choose a distant focus point in the far distance near or on the horizon but not an area that is dark. Focusing on a dark area will change the light meter reading and influence an overexposure. Find a color pattern that drives a modest underexposure. Use this focal point to focus and then recompose to set the frame to capture the scene you want.

Rule of Thirds: Regardless of the sun's position employing the rule of thirds is visually pleasing. If the foreground is water and the sun is still above the horizon, try placing the water's horizon on the lower third of the frame. However, if the foreground is water and the sun is low on the horizon, then place the waterline on the top third and capture the sun's path reflection on the water. If the foreground is land, then placing the horizon (natural or obstructed) on the lower third of the frame is preferred to capture more of the sky.

Crash Points: Many photographers like to put the setting sun on a crash point with the horizon on the bottom third of the frame. This can be especially effective is there is another object or landmark in the frame near the opposing crash point. Giving the sun some lead room can give the picture more dimension.

Zooming: Its also tempting to zoom into close to frame the shot, but take caution not to over zoom. By drawing in too tight you might miss some of the colors. Capture more of the sky as a default - you can always crop in tighter later. Remember too that with some lenses zooming closes the available aperture. This should not be much of an impact as an aperture of F5.6 or higher is preferred.

Silhouettes: As the foreground darkens and by focusing on the distant sky/horizon you can capture silhouettes to outstanding effect. This contrast can be quite striking and add additional emphasis to your composition especially if the foreground silhouettes are humans in natural poses.


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