how to take sunset photos

The Ultimate Guide on How to Photograph Stunning Sunsets and Sunrises

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Sunsets and sunrises have been inspiring man since the dawn of time.  There is something profound about this daily birth and death that has inspired religious devotion, writers, poets, philosophers, artists and photographers to document its incredible effect on the sky and landscape by painting the world in a thousand colors each morning and evening.

Almost magically, what we are photographing is merely an optical illusion.  When we see the sun rise it has still not really risen and when we see it start dip below the horizon it departed 8 minutes earlier. Sunrise and sunset produce an illuminated re-imagining of the world, painting familiar objects in deep reds and golds and, more than this, for those few, brief moments at the beginning and end of the day we get to look directly at the object most responsible for all of the life we have the fortune to photograph throughout the day.  In those dying remains of the day the sun provides some great photographic opportunities as it almost melts into the horizon, sometimes providing the familiar omega shape.

Photography and sunsets go well together because, through this medium, we get to share any sunrise or sunset with others, each one being unique.  Often they will remind us of being calm or represent some romantic moment in our lives.  It’s very rare that almost everybody won’t, at some point in their lives, be inspired to point a camera at the sun’s first or last moments a s a souvenir of a (usually) good memory.  Even looking at just the photograph of a beautiful sunrise can make us feel calmer.

While you may admire a sunset with your eyes, capturing a stunning sunset the way you remember it with your camera is far more tricky than you think.

Unless you read my guide, that is.

Preparation for Sunsets / Sunrise Shooting

Sunset/Sunrise photography can sometimes be a spontaneous and yield magnificent results, but there’s also a lot to be said about planning ahead. I personally like to scout out a location BEFORE the sunset/sunrise has occurred so I can pick out a good spot to take photos. It’s a good idea to guesstimate where the sun will be setting/rising so you can “pre-compose” your image.

While you can sometimes just arrive slightly before a sunset or sunrise and get a magical shot, most of the time you need to do some prep work to ensure you get the best shot possible. This is even more important if you are travelling and you don’t know the location.

A good photography is often the result of a lot of prep work. So don’t ignore this!

1. Know the difference lighting between sunrise and sunsets

There’s some subtle differences (sometimes even dramatic ones) between sunrise and sunset. In my experience, the most dramatic skies are usually as the sun sets in the west, whereas the rising sun has a more languid tranquility because early moisture tends to soften the landscape. The mood of the scene you are trying to capture will completely change depending if you are dealing with sunset or sunrise light.

I suggest you practice taking shots of the same landscape during a sunrise and a sunset so you can see exactly the difference in lighting.

It’s a good idea to look at areas with a high degree of depth because sunrises and sunsets exaggerate this.  As the sun rises higher into the sky each layer of depth such as hills and undulating fields become flatter and flatter.  The sun, at its lowest point, creates far greater definition so try to make the most of this.

2. Identify WHERE the sun will be setting or rising and WHEN it does

Don’t try to ‘wing’ it around sunset or sunrise — figure out exactly where the sun will be during magic hours. You can plan your composition exactly if you know this ahead of time. You can use an app on your phone to find the exact sunset and sunrise times, do a google search, or ask around. The information is always out there.

We’ve written a full article on what is the best time to shoot landscape photos.

3. Calculate what the weather situation will be

It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on the weather too. If it’s cloudy, you won’t likely have a sunset. The BEST sunset images are often when the perfect mix of startling cloud formations combine with a rich sunset/sunrise. You can’t control nature, but you can try and hedge your bets. So keep an eye on the weather — if it looks like the sky is going to be too cloudy, you might want to move your shot to another day.

Remember that weather reporting isn’t foolproof and sometimes it’s worth taking the weather report with a pinch of salt and getting out, because although the prediction may be for bad weather, it can often turn into the most perfect opportunity to take a photograph.  Even without a visible sunrise, the increased warmth produces low mists and morning dew.  If the sun happens to peek through the cloud just for a moment, then the results can be spectacular.  So plan but also find time to be spontaneous occasionally.

4. Find the right location

I personally travel to exotic locations around the world, locations that are stunning to shoot no matter what time of the day. But when you combine a stunning locale WITH the perfect clouds and the perfect sunset/sunrise, you can’t take a bad photo. But you don’t have to go to exotic countries to take amazing sunset/sunrise shots — there’s plenty of opportunities in your own area — you just need to keep an eye out for them.

 The best place to begin is the place nearest your own home and an area that you know well.  There is no point travelling thousands or hundreds of miles to a location if you are just starting out photographing sunrises and sunsets, so do  plenty of experimentation nearby and learn how long it takes you to set up and which filters  and lenses are best suited to the job. Master taking sunsets and sunrises on your own turf THEN bring your A game to spectacular locations around the world for those once-in-a-lifetime photos.

The most obvious way to find a good location for sunrise or sunset photos is to stumble upon them accidentally but there’s no harm in just going out with a simple compass and getting off the beaten track a little to scout out good locations.  The most obvious place to look is along coastal regions and rural, inland landscapes.

How to Find Some Interesting Landscapes for Sunset / Sunrise

Here are some of my tips for finding locations that make dramatic sunset and sunrise photos:

Find Coastal Areas

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Coastal sunrises and sunsets provide a large amount of variation because of the reflectivity of the water. They also offer some interesting foreground objects as part of your composition with strange rock formations and dynamic tide-pools with swirling eddies of water that you can capture with slow shutter speeds during your sunset/sunrise.  Sunsets taken on the coast are popular also because there is nothing to obscure the view of the sunset.

Find Inland Water Areas

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Inland water can have equally stunning results so lakes, salt-marshes, flood plains etc. can all provide great light reflection, dramatic foreground scenery, and add atmospheric interest. Open Sea or Ocean: If you are on a boat or right against the coast, you can compose some sunset/sunrise shots that cover ONLY water and sky. However, you will need some interesting foreground object (a boat, etc) or some sort of dramatic sky to make these photos pop.

Find Interesting Foreground Objects

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 Look for areas that might provide you with some foreground interest or objects that might silhouette well. Some ideas here are an old tree, an interesting rock, an old house, a field of colorful flowers, etc. Anything that adds a sense of scale to your composition. Some objects are much better than others though and can make the difference between a stunning photo and a merely ‘good’ photo. Keep in mind that FINDING A DRAMATIC FOREGROUND OBJECT is where you should be spending most your preparation time. For example, when I travel to exotic places like Leh, India or Nepal, I’ll spend the first day before shooting looking around for the best place to take a sunset shot. And most of that is measuring where the sunset or sunrise position will be at X time and ensuring there is some dramatic objects of interest in the composition. Once I find these (sometimes hours or day before I get the shot), it’s just a matter of getting to the location 20 or 30 minutes before sunset.

Find Areas with Dust / Pollution

In the picture below, taken in Kaosiung, Taiwan, there was a lot of pollution by the cost, leading to some good lighting during sunset.

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Try getting to areas where you know there to be an increased amount of atmospheric pollution; perhaps close to heavily built up areas or areas where there is a high volume of traffic because the pollutants in the atmosphere can produce stunning results, providing intense purples, blues and greens as well as the usual pink and amber tones. Whether you wish to avoid or include vapor trails can all be planned for by finding areas of low aeroplane traffic density.  The bottom line: if you are close to an industrial heartland then perhaps it might be worth taking advantage of the smoke, steam, pollution and architectural shapes, juxtaposing the romance of the sunset with dark, industrial, man-made obfuscation.

Find Areas with Unobstructed Views of the Horizon

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This is a given — if you want a dramatic sunset / sunrise, you ideally want to be able to capture the sun JUST as it touches the horizon. And you need a large open expanse to allow this. However, if you are in a valley and are surrounded by highly elevated areas or buildings — try your best to get up to your highest point or the point with the least hindered view of the horizon. It’s a good idea to keep an eye open for high points you can get to in an area that doesn’t wide open spaces. There are two ways you can get this composition: find a location high enough or find a location with wide open spaces. If you go for the later, consider deserts, grasslands, bodies of water, and  farmland as ideal sunset / sunrise locations.

Focus on the Burning Sky If the Sun is obstructed near the Horizon

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In this photo, there was no clear horizon for the sun, but the clouds lite up nicely.

Sometimes though, the landscape (or the clouds) do not allow you to capture an unhindered view of the sun. If this is the case, then your best bet is to focus on the burning reds, golds, and purple hues of the clouds light up by the sun.

5. Use the Right Equipment

Don’t leave home without the following:

A Set of Graduate  Neutral Density Filters: Quite simply, you can’t capture a good sunset without them, not without having to resort to HDR anyways. You need a 2 stop soft, a 3 stop hard, and a 3 stop reverse grad for a basic Grad Filter setup that will cover you for MOST situations. If you need to go cheap, then either get a 2 or 3 stop SOFT Grad, but it’s better to have 2 or 3 filters so you have more flexibility to capture the best sunset or sunrise exposure. I recommend Singh-Ray if you want the best, Lee if you want good but are on a budget, and Hitech if you are on a budget. Avoid Cokin and Tiffen like the plague– they are crap grad filters and they often leave a pink/red tinge on your image, though Cokin has the best Filter Holder System if you want one, the Cokin Z Filter Holder Kit.

Quality Polarizer:  useful for SOME shots if you are not shooting directly into the sun, especially if the sun is behind you and the clouds are pink. For even better results, get the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo. If you can’t afford the Singh-Ray, get a B&W Multi-coated Polarizer. It’s expensive at 120 USD, but it’s money well spent. Don’t go cheap on me and buy some crap cheap brand with inferior optics. The B&W Polarizers are the best quality and you want quality in a filter or you degrade your image quality.

Tripod: You need one for landscape photography. No questions asked. Check out my best tripods for landscape photraphy article. Hint, the Gitzo 1542T is the one you want, if you can swing it.

Ball Head: You need a ball head, and a quality one. I recommend either the Markin, the Acratech (I recommend the Acratech GP-SS or the original, which I owned for a while), or the Really Right Stuff ball heads. This is not optional, you need a ball head, and a good one. Don’t go cheap here. Expect to pay about 300 or 400 for a quality ball head.

Lenses: An ultra wide angle and a long zoom. The lenses depend on the brand of camera. For Canon, if you have the coin and want a minimal setup that lets you take both ultra wide and zoom compositions (blown up sun/moon, etc) I recommend having two: 16-35L f/4 and the 70-300L f.4-5.6 OR the Canon 100-400 mm L as your dream setup. Also check out my Best lenses for landscape photography article.

Optional but DAMN good to have

  • For Panoramic shooting, having a panning clamp saves a crap load of time. Best is the RRS PCL-1, but this is 250 or so USD.
  • L-Plate: You also want to have an L-Plate for instantly moving between vertical and horizontal positioning of your camera without losing your composition. Again, the best is the RRS brand, but these are about $100 USD for a custom fitted one to your camera body and brand.
  • Arca Swiss Quick Release System: you want to have the Arca Swiss quick release system for instantly removing your camera and putting it on the tripod. If you buy any ball head system, like Markins, Really Right Stuff, Acratech, your ball head often comes with an arca-swiss quick release plate anyways.
  • A Filter Holder kit (such as Cokin Z Filter Holder, which holds the 4×6 inch grad filters), though if you don’t risking a few scratches to your grad filters, you can hand hold them.

Shooting During Magic Hour: How to Get Spectacular Images

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Assuming you’re still with me here, you’ve done the prep work, scouted out the area and found an interesting local, figured out where the sun is setting or rising and you’ve found the time it happens at. You arrive at the location thirty minutes before.

Now the real work begins…

Like any type of photography, you’ll need good composition to make the image and you’ll need good exposure. We won’t talk too about composition techniques here (I’m assuming you have some basic understanding about the rules of composition and how to compose for landscapes. If you don’t, read my articles on the subject)

Sunset Composition Tips

Ok, I lied. We will talk a little about composition and sunsets, particularly, what to do with the sun. You have two choices when it comes to sunsets and sunrises: make the sun the dominant focal point of the composition or a supporting element of the whole frame (read more about composition and sunrise/sunsets here)

How to Make the Sun the Dominant Element

If you want to make a feature of the sun itself in the image (that is, the focal point of the composition), you have two choices: center the sun in the frame OR use a telephoto to blow up the sun.

Choice 1: Center the Picture on the Sun: If you want to make the sun the center of the frame, you can use any sort of lens — ultra wide angle, wide angle, telephoto — whatever. The key point here is to just have the sun as the focal point of the eye.

Here’s an example I took when I was in China. Notice the sun is the center point of the composition. I used an ultra wide angle here (17-40L) down at 17mm on my 5D at the time.

sunrise and sunset photo tips

Here’s another image taken by me in China years ago when I first started getting into photography. The sun is framed in the center of the image.

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Choice 2: Blow up the sun: No, I don’t mean destroy the sun, I mean make it ginormous.  If you want a gigantic sun, then you are going to need the right gear to make this happen. That is, you’ll need to shoot with glass with a focal length upwards of 200 mm.

Even with 200 mm, the sun won’t be very big at all. To really get a sun that takes up some space in your frame, you’ll need at least a 300 or 400mm focal length WITH some teleconverter (such as Kenko 2x extension tubes) to increase the focal range even more.

The reason for needing a super zoom telephoto is because the sun  is only a very small object in the sky. Although a wide angle lens will let you see more of what the sun does, only a longer lens will allow you to see the circular, orange disc with any degree of dominance in the photograph.

Here’s the formula to calculate how much of a focal length you need for the resulting sun or moon size (in mm) in your picture frame.

Image Size (of sun or moon, in mm) = Focal Length / 110

It should be pretty clear to you if you crunch a few numbers that you are going to need some HUGE focal lengths if you want a big sun.

 

So.

I recommend you have at least a 200m if you want the sun to play a minimally dominant role in the image. At 200mm, your sun is only going to be about 2mm big.

At 300m, your sun is going to be about 3mm big

at 400mm, your sun is going to be 4mm.

 

Here’s an example (not taken by me) of a larger then life sun, achieved by using a long zoom on a crop camera. Note the sun is about 1 inch (25 mm). To get this sun effect directly in-camera on your composition without cropping your image (you crop to zoom in software), you would need to shoot at about 2500mm!

 

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As a thought exercise here, let’s see what it would take to get that.

Well, you could pony out 100,000 USD and use the Canon 1200mm with a set of Kenko 2x extension tubes. That would give you 2400mm on a full frame.

You could spend about 10k on a Canon 800mm, use a set of Kenko 3x extension tubes to get 2400mm.

But a more realistic would be to use a 100-400mm on a CROP sensor with a Kenko 2x to get roughly 400 x 1.6 x 2 = 1280mm — still short. We’d have to crop the photo to double the zoom. We could put a Kenko 3x (not a good idea with quality degrading) to get 400 x 3 = 1600 on a full frame. Or on a crop we would just get about 1900mm.

Here’s another image. Look at the size of the moon — about an inch and a half. that’s roughly 3500mm to get this. I’d estimate a crop camera with a 500mm lens, a 3x teleconverter which gives us just about 500 x 3 x 1.6 = 2400 mm and another 1000 mm from CROPPING the image.

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So the bottom line here. If you want a giant sun that fills your frame, you are going to need at long telephoto — at LEAST 400mm with a 2 x or 3x teleconverter. For a really big sun or moon, you want around 2500mm focal length — so unless you can afford something like a 1200mm lens, you are going to have to use something like a 400mm, a 2x or 3x teleconverter, and crop your image to get 2x the zoom. This will give you roughly 2000mm or more.  A 200mm lens, as you see, is not going to cut it.

How to Capture Open Expanses 

Wide Angles are great if you want to capture the effects of the sun on its surroundings. In my experience, these type of shots are magical IF you have a sunset or sunrise over wide, open expanses — think deserts, coastal areas, grasslands — basically any area with a lot of open ground and open sky above it. Of course, it helps to have some interesting clouds too.

If you’re goal is to photograph the sun setting over the sea, field, or mountain range, you might want to opt for a wide angle lens. Your image will look more dramatic.  The Rule of Thirds here with an foreground object off interest is really key here. Just pulling out an ultra wide is not enough — you need something to put a sense of scale to your wide open image. The focus should be the sky, and sun, and your object of interest which balances the whole frame out.

Bring the Sun to the Center IF Your Photo Has Patterns

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If you have an image with with some symmetry or geometric lines (fields of flowers say), sometimes bringing the sun into the center of the image can add a lot of drama. Examples could be sunsets over the ocean or over a field of flowers. However, I find keeping the sun off center as a rule of thumb leads to better images.

Use a Wide Angle with dramatic clouds to make them more dramatic

Here’s a shot I took when I was in Huangshan, China and the sky was particularly dramatic during a sunset. I used a Wide Angle to bring out the sky and put the clouds right in your face.

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If you have an ultra wide angle, the clouds often take on a very dramatic look. So if you see some spectacular cloud formations around sunset, pull out that ultra wide angle and get ready to take some jaw dropping photos. Particularly interesting are clouds that look like sheep that lead your eye towards the sun. You’ll also need an interesting foreground object as well to balance the composition and inject a sense of scale. This is especially important if you want to use an Ultra Wide Angle.

 

 

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Sunset Exposure Tips: How to Get Brilliant Sun, Sky, and Land all at Once

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Make sure you have an understanding about the fundamental rules of exposure and your camera. And you may want to read our article about capturing the perfect exposures for landscape photos.

Ok, now that I’ve given you some composition strategies to make your sunset or sunrise frame more interesting to the eye, now you need to make sure the lighting is perfect. That is, you want a perfectly exposed capture.

This is not as easy as it sounds. If you’ve ever tried taking sunset pictures and simply pointed your camera at the sunset and snap some shots, you probably ended up with a very washed out, bland image. Typically, if you expose your shot for the sky during a sunset, you get a brilliant sky and a dark foreground. If you expose for the foreground, you get a well light foreground but a washed out sky.

The problem is one that has been haunting photography ever since, well, there was photography. Your camera’s ability to capture gradients of light (both shadows and light) is called Dynamic Range. The higher that number in a camera, the better it does at capturing scenes where there is a big contrast in lighting. Your eyes have MUCH greater Dynamic Range than do cameras, which is why you can look at a brilliant sunset and sunrise and see the whole scene perfectly light up — the sky, the sun, and the landscape. Your camera, however can’t.

To some degree, buying an expensive DLSR or Mirrorless camera with high Dynamic Range means you can better capture scenes of contrasting light, but as of 2015, no camera comes even close to what your eyes can do. This means you simply can’t capture a perfectly exposed sunset or sunrise in a single exposure.

So what’s the solution here?

If you don’t want a silhouette of the sun, sky, and shadowed landscape (this can be an awesome type of sunset / sunrise photo if you have the right elements going on ), then there are two things you can do to make the exposure work:

1. Do HDR Photography

2. Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Let’s go over these two points below and explain them.

HDR Photography for Sunrise and Sunsets

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The above image is one of the first HDR images I ever took years back. It’s not a great example of good HDR photography and years ago many of the HDR photos tended to look cartoony due to the software (and I didn’t know what I was doing with the settings). But the point remains, you can use a number of photos and combine them with software to get a better image than you could have with a single frame.

There’s a whole school of photography devoted to this. It basically comes down to capturing multiple exposures of the same frame, one underexposed, one evenly exposed, and one overexposed. These three (you can have more than three) images are then combined using software to bring out an evenly exposed image — the sky, the mid-ground, and the foreground are all exposed properly. Basically, by combining different exposures, you dramatically increase the dynamic range to something near what your eyes are.

I’ll take specifically in future articles about HDR photography because it’s its own article.

Most half decent DSLR’s or Mirrorless cameras have something called Automatic Exposure Bracketing (or some variation of this name). This basically means your camera will automatically take multiple shots of the same frame, one right after the other, at different exposures. You can set how far each exposure taken is from the next and the maximum exposure range. For example, my Canon 5D Mark II can take 3 exposures, set at a maximum of 2 exposure stops each. That means the first is -2, the second is 0, and the third is +2. These three raw images are then combined with software to produce and HDR image.

Other cameras these days can take up to 15 different exposures, with the exposures less than 1 stop. Generally, the more exposures you have, the better the dynamic range you get when you recombine your images. However, there is a balance of time, memory, and effort you need to consider. You might not want every single shot you take to have 15 different RAW images — this takes a lot more memory and results in a lot more images to manage. It also takes a lot more time. Typically 3 exposures gives you a good result — I do 3 myself. However, 6 or 9 is also a good compromise. There’s a point of diminishing return in the final product. a 15 image HDR photo may not look all that much better than a 3 image one. You’ll have to experiment to find what works best.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

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In the above, I did an exposure using a 3 stop Lee soft grad angled slightly upward. This grad allowed me to capture some of the bright sunset light while still having the Himalayan mountain valleys exposed. I took this in a high mountain pass after 2 weeks of hiking in the Nepal Himalaya Anapurna circuit.

I’ve already written a number of Graduate Neutral Density Filter Guides. If you want a full tutorial and introduction to these, then check out this, this, and this.

Suffice to say, these filters allow you to balance out the exposures by ‘holding back’ the sky while you expose for the foreground. This is achieved because the filter has a darker area that’s placed over the bright sky  when you compose your shot while the clear bottom section is placed on the foreground. This basically allows you to ‘balance’ the exposure. By exposing for the foreground, you get a good, well lite foreground while they sky exposure is undere-exposed by whatever strength grad filter you are using. At the end of the day, instead of an image (without the filter) that has the sky at a +2 exposure and the foreground at a 0 exposure, you get a 0 exposure for the sky and a 0 for the foreground.

You will want to choose different grads for different sunset landscapes.

How to Use GND’s For Sunset / Sunrise

When to Use Hard Grad Filters: For open wide areas with no obstructions, use a HARD GRADUATED FILTER. This is a filter that has half of it dark and half of it clear with no gradation between the dark and clear parts. You place the dark part over the sky and the clear part over the land and you get a perfectly balanced exposure.

For open oceans, fields, grasslands, desserts, Hard Grads are a good choice, if there are very few obstructions of the horizon.

When to Use Soft Grad Filters: For areas with obstructions in the horizon, use a SOFT GRADUATED FILTER. This is a filter that has half of it dark and half of it clear, but there is a gradient where the dark gets lighter. You place the darker part over the sky and the clear part over the ground. The gradient between dark and light is gradual and means you don’t get DARK BANDS in the center of your photo where in the composition you have objects sticking out into the sky (which become under exposed since the shadow part is facing you and these are further hidden by the dark part of the grad meaning they become even more underexposed than the parts beside it).

For mountain scenery, urban scenery with high rises, or rural areas with hills, Soft Grads are idea.

When to Use Reverse Grad Filters: If you have a clear division between the land and the sky and the sun touches the horizon, use a REVERSE GRAD FILTER. This filter has half of it dark and half of it clear, but the very center has an even DARKER band. Since the sun, when touching the horizon means that center area is the brightest part of the sky, the darker band across the center means you get a more evenly lite, more dramatic sunset for CERTAIN TYPES OF SUNSETS / SUNRISES, those being when the sun touches the horizon and there are no obstructions.

For sunsets and sunrises taken in desserts, the ocean, grasslands, or open fields, this is the ideal filter, IF THERE ARE NOT obstructions of the horizon.

Lenses and the Magic Hour

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Taken in Yangshuo, China with a 11-22 on my old 30D.

Check out our Best Lenses for Sunset / Sunrise Photography for more information about what lenses you should use for sunrise and sunsets.

However, in this section here we’ll give a few tips on HOW to use your lenses, not specific recommendations about what lens to use.

How to Avoid Lens Flare

Obviously, the sun is going to be in almost direct line of sight to the lens so flare is a common problem.  A cheap UV filter will only make this problem worse so opt for high quality UV Filter OR take it off during sunset to reduce the chances of flare.

The best way to avoid flare other than quality optics is to either make sure the camera is in shade or, better still, use a lens hood.  Make sure the lens is clean because any grease or dust will also cause flare and aberrations.

Sometimes you do want the lens flare effect though — see my image above. I think the flare works in this case.

To Use or Not to Use the Polarizer

Polarizers offer the most benefits if the sun is 90 degrees from your shooting direction or if it’s somewhat behind you. If you are shooting into the sun, the Polarizer won’t do much for the light and it may cause lens Flare.

How to Focus Your Lens during Magic Hour

If you want to photography the perfect sunset or sunrise, well you want to make sure you’ve got your lens focus down just right. Otherwise, parts of the scene won’t be in focus.

Step 1. Use Manual Focus

In most cases you will be using a smaller aperture, usually smaller than  f11.  The camera may have some difficulty in focusing in such varied and excessively confusing light conditions.

Step 2. Focus lens about 2/3’s of the way up in the  frame from the bottom

This is a good rule of thumb for landscapes, especially if you are including a foreground object that’s fairly close. If there is no close foreground object, you can set your focus to Infinity. You will also need to set your aperture to f16 or more

Step 3. Choose an fstop between f16 and f22 for maximum sharpness

With landscapes, you want everything to be sharp and in focus. So you need an fstop that’s fairly high. A safe setting that will have everything from the foreground to distant background is to choose an aperture between f16-f18. Note though you will really have to research your specific lens and see what people say is the IDEAL fstop for landscapes. The ideal can change depending on the lens and brand you are using!  Keep in mind that higher f stops mean you will get more diffraction.

The Final Word

I’ve given you guys what’s likely the most comprehensive guide on shooting sunsets and sunrises on the web. Between this article and my other articles I’ve linked to in this article, you should have absolutely everything you need to know about how to shoot amazing sunset and sunrise photos. Do make sure you read our 17 Tips for Capturing Spectacular Sunsets as well.

Remember, this is all just theory though. At the end of the day, you will learn the most by taking your camera into the field during magic hour and getting those shots! Keep in mind that you’ll need Grad Filters or to take multiple exposures for HDR if you want good sunset / sunrise photos. SO as long as you have grads or you take multiple exposures, you should be able to get some well exposed shots.

If you guys have any questions, feel free to post them here.

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