Everyone loves a sunset; pink, blue, orange, purple, water, mountains, cities and fields, no matter what, there’s something a little magical about completing your day watching the sun lower below the horizon. We’ve had so many of you ask us about how to get that perfect shot, so we thought it was about time we shared our ultimate guide to sunset photography.Here’s all you need for the recipe to success…
– Camera (with the capability to shoot on manual)
– Tripod (large or small – as long as it’s sturdy)
– Remote trigger or self timer
– Snacks (sometimes you’re there for a while!)
– Neutral density (ND) filters
– Gradient ND filterMETHOD
Step 1. Scout out an epic location during the day – never wait until just before sunset to do this as there’s no doubt you will go back the next day to realise there was a better angle just two minutes walk away!
Step 2. Check where the sun will be going down and what time. PhotoPills is a great app to show you the direction of the sunset/sunrise and as you begin to shoot more, has plenty of extra features which will assist you in capturing those epic photographs. Well worth the investment!
Step 3. Gather your ingredients and return to the location you found earlier with plenty of time to spare so you can snag the best spot, and also to master the composition before the light begins to change.
Step 4. Don’t think that you’re going to get 20 good shots in the one night – focus on getting one, maybe two, great ones. It’s better to get one great result than hundreds of mediocre shots.
Step 5. Set up your tripod in a safe and sturdy location, nobody wants to have their camera taken away by a rogue wave. A good way to make your tripod even sturdier is to hang your bag over it to give it some more weight.
Step 6. If your lens has image stabiliser, turn it off, you don’t want it to get confused and try to stablise your shot – your tripod is doing that already.
Step 7. Set your white balance to cloudy or shade. I find this works in most cases so try that first then go from there. Changing your white balance will change the colours of your image dramatically so have a play around with a few different settings.
Step 8. Set your camera to its lowest ISO – generally 100 to 200.
Step 9. Set your aperture to somewhere between f8 and f11 to ensure a large depth of field.
Step 10. Adjust your shutter speed until you have the correct exposure. Generally this is the only setting I’ll touch for the rest of the night.
Step 11. Attach your remote trigger, or set your timer to two seconds to prevent camera shake. If you’re using the timer make sure you press the shutter button and then take your hand off the camera otherwise it defeats the purpose of using a timer!Now you’re ready to make some magic.
Step 12. Begin to take photos as soon as the light starts to become exciting.
Step 13. While capturing your photos, take one at the exposure you’re after, +1 stop and -1 stop – three photos in total. This helps when you’re just getting used to shooting in lower light, it might take a bit to get used to the results you’ll get from the camera. Some cameras have an in-built function which allows you to take three photos at once, which can make this part of the process a lot faster and easier. By taking three different exposures for each photo it will ensure you don’t get home and realise they are all a little too bright or dark. Once you’ve viewed them on the computer you’ll be able to see what worked out the best for next time.
Step 14. Don’t leave too early! The amount of people that I see leave as soon as the sun dips below the horizon and miss the best bit drives me crazy. Stay all the way into blue hour (the time after golden hour, but before the sky goes pitch black), and watch the city lights appear one at a time. It’s amazing to watch and makes for a great shot.
Now for those optional ingredients listed above:
– A neutral density (ND) filter will block out a stop or a few stops of light so you can get those smooth water shots or dreamy misty rocks. It allows much slower shutter speeds in brighter conditions as it basically makes the front of your lens – and therefore your subject – much darker. A variable neutral density filter is great if you’re travelling light, as you dial it down to block out as much light as you need to.
– A gradient ND filter will allow you to block out some of the brightness of an incredible sunset, so your foreground will be more balanced with the sky. It fades from dark to clear so is moved up and down in front of the lens to darken the area desired. These come in different gradients for different scenes. A soft-edge grad ND 0.9 filter is a good one to start with as it suits most situations.
The reason I’ve listed these as optional is that an ND filter isn’t always a necessity, it just depends on what you want to achieve, and the graduated filter can almost be created in post production using a great little tool in Lightroom (graduated filter – see BAKING).BAKING
If you’ve followed the recipe carefully you should have at least one great shot, but if you want to take it a bit further, here is a quick rundown on processing in Lightroom. No sky swaps or anything crazy, we just want to make the image pop!
You should have a selection of images from the beginning of the sunset all the way through to blue hour, so now it’s time to pick your favourite. It might not be the shot you anticipated, but that’s all part of the fun.
Step 1. Start by importing your images into Lightroom.
Step 2. Use the star rating option to rate your best shots and narrow them down to the one you’re going to work on. Look for the most balanced photograph out of your three shots, where the exposure looks the best on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights.
Step 3. Make all basic Lightroom adjustments – sharpening, white balance, lens correction etc
Step 4. Experiment with the graduated filter tool. If you didn’t have a gradient ND filter while shooting, this is a great tool to bring back some of the detail in the sky and create a more balanced photograph. This tool is located just under your histogram in the develop tab of Lightroom – the fourth icon across which just looks like a rectangle. Select this and drag it down over your sky – then make adjustments to exposure and highlights until you’re happy with the result. Select DONE before you continue to make any other edits.Step 5. Show them off on social media and tag us in @lensesandlocals, or send us an email, so we can see the results!