In this article over at Digital Photography School, photographer Yacine Bessekhouad explains some of the most important features of a stunning sunset image.
Besides knowing some composition tricks you need to be aware of how different weather conditions will affect your image. Surprisingly many photographers don’t know what the best weather for sunset photography really is!
How to predict the best sunsets
Depending on where you live, the sunset will be different. You can’t really predict a nice sunset, but there are some signs that can help you decide whether you should go out and give it a try or not. Of course, I would recommend going out and photographing all the time, but if you’re a busy person and do not want to go back home frustrated, then you should consider these few tips.
There are some areas in the world where sunsets are not vivid, and you won’t see any colors in the sky. For example, I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for a year and during that period I have only witnessed around 10 beautiful sunsets (no joke). However, when I go to the south of France, there is a dramatic and vivid sunset everyday.
There is a simple reason explaining this – clouds make all the difference. I am talking about patchy white clouds with a blue sky. These clouds will catch some amazing colors and give you the best results possible when the sun sets.
If there is some light rain during the evening, then you can be pretty sure you will get an amazing sunset. I really can’t explain it, but trust me, it works all the time.
Planning and patience
Planning is the most important thing, I would recommend going to the location around 30 minutes before the start of the sunset to compose your shot, especially if you don’t know the location.
With sunsets, the scene can change very very quickly. I highly recommend composing your shot, placing your camera on the tripod, and not moving until the sunset is totally finished.
Lens and composition
I would recommend using a wide angle lens to capture the whole scene, if you’re going to compose your image to include some foreground, middle ground and background, which I highly recommend. This enables the viewer to position himself in the image, and it adds a good sense of depth. Also, try to make the sky or the foreground at least a third of the image.
Settings and extra gear
A tripod is essential because you will want to shoot with an aperture between f/8 and f/13 for sharp images, and ISO 100 for the best image quality. This cuts down the light quite a lot, and you will end up having a slow shutter speed to compensate. To avoid any shaky images, use a tripod with a cable release or a two second timer.
I highly recommend exposing your images for the highlights (which means you are exposing for the sky). The rest of the image will be underexposed, but if you’re shooting in RAW you will be able to recover details in the shadows.
Another solution is to use a graduated neutral density filter that will cut down the light on your highlights in the sky, and keep your mid-tones and shadows well exposed.
For sunsets, in my opinion the best thing to do is to get creative – either do HDR or digital blending.
In both cases, it’s better to take three different exposures to get the full dynamic range of the scene. Especially because there will be a lot of contrast between the brights and the darks, it’s difficult to get all the details. You can merge the exposures automatically with a software, or manually with luminosity masks.
Source: Digital Photography School