How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

Who doesn’t love a good sunset photo? There’s something about that colorful, ethereal time of day that strikes a cord with just about every person. But as appealing and ordinary as sunsets are, the ability to capture that magical time of day as a photo can be surprisingly difficult.

Sunset Photos

Photo by Martin Genev

Yes, gear and camera settings are important. However, the ability to be in the right place at the right time of day is arguably the most important factor to photographing a sunset. Below, I’ll highlight several tips for planning

Yes, gear and camera settings are important. However, the ability to be in the right place at the right time of day is arguably the most important factor to photographing a sunset. Below, I’ll highlight several tips for planning

Find the best sunset location

How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

If you’re visiting a new town and searching for an ideal sunset spot, your best bet is to do some online searches. Do a Google image search for “[location] sunset” and see what pops up. Better yet, visit stock image sites and enter similar search queries.

In most cases, you’ll see sunset photos taken from one or two popular locations. It might take some digging to find out exactly where those spots are, but once you have the answer, you’ll know where to shoot.

What time is the sunset?

A simple Google search will tell you exactly when sunset happens in the location of your choice. Keep in mind, however, that the hour or so before sunset is the ideal time of day for most photographers, so you’ll want to show up at your chosen sunset location closer to Golden Hour.

To really hone in the ideal times of day to shoot in a new location, the PhotoPills app is a handy tool. It’s packed full of information that can help you plan and execute outdoor photo shoots.

PhotoPills Sunset Planner - How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

Image courtesy of PhotoPills

Camera settings for sunset photos

Your ideal camera settings for shooting a sunset depend on a variety of factors, but generally speaking, these are some rules to go by.

Shoot in RAW

When it comes to shooting the sunset, one of the biggest challenges is making sure your camera captures the same warmth and vibrancy that your eyes are seeing. You can typically make White Balance and Picture Style tweaks in camera (more on those below). But just in case, it’s also a good idea to shoot in RAW to give you greater creative control when you post-process the image.

Set White Balance

Leaving your camera White Balance set to Auto might suffice. However, if the color cast of your image is looking too cool or slightly off, try setting your White Balance to Daylight or Cloudy to warm up your shot.

Shoot in Aperture Priority

What shooting mode you should use is certainly debatable, but Aperture Priority will give you greater control over the depth of field. Shooting with a small aperture (f-step of f/16 or higher) will give you a large depth of field. This is ideal if you want more of your scene in focus.

How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

Keep ISO Low

To avoid excessive noise in your image, maintain the lowest possible ISO for the amount of light you have available. If it happens to be a cloudy sunset or you’re shooting a scene with lots of shadows, you might have to increase your ISO unless you use a tripod.

Composition tips for unique sunset photos

After you’ve got your ideal sunset spot secured, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of sunset image you want to capture.

Keep this in mind: the way that most people photograph a sunset is to whip out their camera at hand, point it directly at the sunset and start snapping away. There’s nothing wrong with capturing the sunset this way, but it doesn’t always make for unique images.

If you’re trying to think outside of the box and get an interesting sunset photo, try some of these tips.

Zoom in

How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

For most spontaneous sunset photographers, the camera at hand is their point and shoot or cell phone. These cameras are usually equipped with wide-angle lenses. Set yourself apart from the crowd by picking an interesting feature and zooming in.

Shoot away from the sun

Instead of shooting directly into the sun, consider pointing your lens in the opposite direction. The bright and often vibrant colors generated by the sunset can make the scene in the opposite direction equally alluring, without having to compensate for shooting directly into bright light.

Wait for Blue Hour

Every photographer has heard about Golden Hour, that magical time of day just before sunset. Lesser known is Blue Hour, that brief time of day that begins roughly 10 minutes after the sun has set (and before it has risen at dawn).

Blue Hour Photography - How to Plan and Take Killer Sunset Photos on Your Next Vacation

This image was taken just after sunset during Blue Hour.

The sky isn’t as obviously colorful during Blue Hour as it is during sunset or Golden Hour. However, Blue Hour still offers a window of time when it can be best to shoot cityscapes or landscapes with deep blue tones in the sky. You will almost certainly need a tripod to shoot during Blue Hour as it is significantly darker without the sun. But the lesson here is that many more photo opportunities exist even after sunset.

Over to You

Do you have any tips for shooting sunset photos? Share your photos and tips below!

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