How to Capture Magical Sunsets

Sunsets are magic. They're like getting a glimpse into another world. No matter how many times I photograph them, the sky is always different. Do you want to take magical sunset photos? Here are some tips:

Ask Google
Before I go out, I ask Google the sunset time. Since its spring, the time is 7:20pm. That’s when the sun will be gone. Don’t leave at the sunset time and expect to take twilight picks. You’re too late. Give yourself about an hour.

Check Your Camera
Several times, I’ve walked out of the house without an SD card. Or, I’m halfway through a photo session and my battery dies. Before you leave, check your equipment.

Look at the Clouds
I like going to the park to take sunset photos. Before I leave, I check the clouds to make sure it’ll be worth it. You want some texture in the sky. If the sky is overcast, just a sheer of white, you probably aren’t going to get any good sunset photos. The scene will just gradually get darker without the pretty golden colors.

If the sky is straight blue, no clouds, you may capture some good scenes just not of the sky. The sun won’t be covered so you’ll get a nice golden shine on nature.

I like when there are enough clouds to make a nice texture. At sunset, you’ll see some nice bands of colors in the sky. Clouds make the scene so much more dramatic.

Use Cloudy or Shade Settings
I mostly take photos using aperture (AV) priority. I only use shutter (TV) priority when I'm shooting something moving or I want a slow shutter speed. On AV priority, I set the aperture between F10 and F13, makes sure the entire scene is in focus. I don’t do anything with the exposure. My camera does that just fine on its own. For White balance, I use Cloudy or Shade. Other settings usually make the scene too blue. Cloudy and Shade makes those golden colors pop. 

Refocus Your Shot
Ever try to take a picture of a whole scene only to have part of it too dark or too bright? I often have that problem when shooting the sunset. The sky is way too bright and I lose all the nice colors and textures. The landscape is all nice and pretty though. Or, when I focus on the sky, it comes out all pretty but everything else is too black.

Don’t focus on the entire scene at first. Focus your camera on the sky and half press the shutter button. Then adjust your camera to get the whole scene in the frame. This way the camera is calculating for the sky. The land will, more than likely, still be too dark but you can fix that in post.

Shoot raw
Most of my twilight shots don’t come out this pretty straight off the camera. 

I often have to fix them in post because of the problem mentioned above. Raw files are perfect for that. If the scene is too dark, you can brighten it and get all the details back. However, this does not work if your sky is overexposed. If the sky is just white, no amount of editing is going to bring back the colors you lost. That’s why I suggest you worry more about getting the sky correct right off camera.

Actually, knowing Photoshop and Lightroom, there might be a way to bring the colors back. It’s easier to fix a scene that’s too dark than a sky that’s too white.

Don't Be Afraid to Underexpose Your Photos
A lot of the photos you see here are partially underexposed, they're too dark in some places. That's fine. I did that on purpose to bring the focus to the sky.

Have Fun
I learned all this by going out and taking photos. I experimented. Don't be afraid to take bad photos. Just enjoy photography. Don't forget to come fron behind the camera and enjoy the view.

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